Soon after the discovery of the first novel coronavirus outbreak in late 2019, infectious disease experts realized they were looking at the beginning of a global pandemic. By February of 2020, this new and highly contagious illness had a name: coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.
Caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), COVID-19 has been putting researchers to the test as it spreads like wildfire across the world, causing no symptoms in some, mild illness in others, and serious illness or death in a small, but significant, percentage of people.
Part of what researchers have learned is that COVID-19 poses a greater risk of serious illness for people with certain underlying health problems, including chronic cardiovascular conditions like heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, and pulmonary hypertension.
As medical experts continue to study the effects of COVID-19, the team of cardiologists at ECCA is dedicated to keeping you updated on the latest findings. Here’s what we know (so far) about the novel coronavirus and heart health.
A higher risk of serious illness
If you have cardiovascular disease, the first thing you need to know about COVID-19 is that it poses a greater threat to you than it does to the average healthy person. That’s partly because people with heart disease have an increased risk of serious illness from any severe respiratory illness, from pneumonia and influenza to COVID-19.
Researchers are still trying to determine exactly how and to what extent this new coronavirus affects the cardiovascular system. What they do know, however, is that once it enters the body, COVID-19 causes direct damage to the lungs, which triggers a systemic inflammatory reaction.
This pulmonary invasion and subsequent inflammatory response stress your cardiovascular system in two ways — your blood oxygen levels drop, as does your blood pressure. As a result, your heart has to beat faster and harder to supply oxygen to your body.
If your cardiovascular system is already diseased or impaired, COVID-19 may make your heart function decline even further. Your vulnerability is even greater if you’re an older adult, as the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 increases with age.
Primary cardiac complications
There are two main cardiac complications associated with COVID-19: heart failure, which occurs when the heart muscle no longer pumps blood efficiently, and heart arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeat rhythms.
People with severe COVID-19 may develop heart failure as a result of high lung pressure from pulmonary damage, rampant systemic inflammation, or inflammation of the heart (myocarditis).
Older patients with existing coronary artery disease or hypertension are more likely to develop heart failure from severe COVID-19 because of the increased demand on their heart combined with their already-reduced cardiac reserve capacity.
Younger patients without existing cardiovascular issues are more likely to develop heart failure as a result of a direct viral infection in the heart that leads to myocarditis.
Arrhythmias, which may be caused by the infection or may be an effect of the medication used to treat it, can be particularly problematic in the face of continuous systemic inflammation.
That’s because a strong and sustained inflammatory response can damage the lining of your blood vessels and increase your risk of developing blood clots. All together, these factors can boost your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke.
Minimize your risk and stay healthy
Given that researchers are still trying to grasp the full effects that COVID-19 can have on the cardiovascular system — including any long-term damage it may inflict on the heart — it’s more important than ever to stay on top of your health and minimize your risk of catching COVID-19.
COVID-19 is primarily transmitted via droplets in the air when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes; it can also be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces and then transferring the virus to your mouth or nose.
To reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19, avoid large gatherings, follow social distancing guidelines, wear a face covering in stores, public buildings, or areas where it’s hard to maintain social distance, and be vigilant about hand hygiene.
And just as important, if you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, or any other heart attack symptoms, don’t “ride it out at home” because you’re worried you might catch COVID-19 at the hospital. A heart attack is a life-threatening emergency, and if you think you’re having one, call 911 for assistance.
If you have questions about COVID-19 and heart health, we can help. Call your nearest ECCA office in Manchester, Hartford, or South Windsor, Connecticut, today, or click online to schedule a telemedicine appointment with one of our seasoned cardiologists today.