The coronavirus has affected our world and lives in a way that most people have never experienced before. As the number of cases is sky rocketing on a daily basis, an underlying issue is emerging with regards to the direct cardiovascular impact of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus. For people with heart conditions, the implications are serious.
Although the most serious complication of COVID-19 is a type of pneumonia called 2019 novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia (NCIP), doctors are seeing the following complications emerge in people who have contracted the coronavirus: acute respiratory distress syndrome, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias), cardiovascular shock, heart damage or heart attack, myocarditis, rapid onset heart failure, severe muscle pain (myalgias), and fatigue.
As the global impact of COVID-19 continues to ignite fears, at times fueling more questions than answers, the scientific community continues to evaluate the clinical impact and needs of patients with cardiovascular disease. According to the reports on patient data from Italy's National Institute of Health, 99% of COVID-19 patients who have died had at least one preexisting condition. 77% of patients in Italy who died from COVID-19 had hypertension. There's a reason to be concerned as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that even though the overall mortality rate (death rate) of COVID-19 is lower than the initial estimation of 3 - 4%, people with underlying chronic respiratory disease experience a 6.3% death rate, which is still lower than people with cardiovascular disease, who have an alarmingly high mortality rate of 10.5%.
No one knows for sure why COVID-19 is causing severe cardiac complications. One leading theory is that the immune system reacting to the virus is overwhelmed in a "cytokine storm" leading to a cascade of events which can damage the heart muscle. Researchers have also discovered that the virus gains entry in the cells by latching on to ACE2 receptors that are found in the lungs, heart, and the digestive tract.
There's speculation that a common class of blood pressure drugs, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers may make people susceptible to COVID-19 virus. This is based on animal research models and has not been proven in humans. It is imperative that no patient should stop taking their blood pressure medication, especially since poorly controlled blood pressure or heart disease can in itself prove to be dangerous.
What you can do to optimize your cardiac and overall health:
Maintain adequate follow-up and communication: patients with hypertension and/or heart disease should keep in close contact with their cardiologist and medical team. They need to check in frequently to stay updated with recommendations of their doctors and the CDC. Telemedicine appointments are an excellent way to be in touch with your cardiologist from the safety of your home.
Manage your risk factors: after a diagnosis of heart disease, it's important to manage your risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. by taking medications as prescribed. In addition, quitting smoking, being active, and eating healthy goes a long way in avoiding hospitalization where the risk of exposure to coronavirus is greatly elevated.
Keep up with your supplements that support heart health and overall health: continue taking your Omega 3, curcumin, CoQ10, and multivitamins if recommended by your physician as part of a healthy diet. A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats along with adequate intake of water will aid in maintaining wellness. don't forget micro and macro nutrients such as probiotics, zinc, iron, folate, magneisum, and copper, all of which can be provided by a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Keep your mind healthy and get support when needed: It is normal to feel stressed and scared during these unprecedented times. It's okay to pay attention to news, but don't oversaturate yourself with information as it will only lead to anxiety and worry. Meditation, mindful breathing, exercising, talking to a loved one over FaceTime or phone call, reading a book, etc. are all ways that you can help relieve anxiety.