COVID-19 brings so many questions for all of us, but for patients with heart disease – those questions often come with greater worry from people who are already managing health problems and risk factors. We’ve consulted several experts from our WakeMed Heart & Vascular team to answer many of your common concerns about COVID-19 and heart health.
How is COVID-19 impacting patients with heart problems?
Unfortunately, early evidence has shown that people with cardiovascular conditions and/or risk factors such as heart disease, cardiac arrhythmia, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and/or diabetes are at higher risk of complications related to COVID-19. In addition, patients without heart conditions may develop them due to the virus.
That’s why it’s very important for everyone to watch for cardiac symptoms. Keep an eye out for chest pain, shortness of breath, increased swelling, weight gain, dizziness/lightheadedness or palpitations.
Is it safe to see my cardiologist right now?
Regardless of what’s going on around us, we know that heart disease and other cardiac problems are chronic conditions that need to be monitored carefully. We understand our patients are at greater risk of complications, so whether you prefer a virtual or an in-person visit, we’ve done everything we can to make your appointment as safe and efficient as possible.
From symptom screening/temperature checks for patients and staff to wearing masks, offering electronic check-in, the ability to wait in your car rather than the lobby, modifying our facility’s layouts to, as always, deeply disinfecting all surfaces throughout the day – your safety and the safety of our staff are the top priorities.
I have heart failure – what do I need to know about COVID-19?
PLEASE continue to take your medications as prescribed, watch your diet and sodium intake, and maintain your routine care. Early on, there was talk that certain heart failure drugs (ACE inhibitors and ARBs) might increase your risk of contracting COVID-19, but there is absolutely NO data to support this.
Secondly, there hasn’t been much data published about patients with existing heart failure and how they are faring with COVID-19, but there have been numerous reports of people developing heart failure as a result of COVID-19. What we do know is that keeping a close watch on your condition is always in your best interest. To do this, we are offering virtual visits or in-person visits, and we are now using new technologies (Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators and cardiac fluid sensors) to track how well your heart failure is being managed.
The bottom line is, please stay in touch with your doctor – we’ll do everything we can to keep you safe and cared for throughout this pandemic.
I have an arrhythmia – what do I need to know about COVID-19?
There is growing data that there are arrhythmia complications from coronavirus, but we still are not sure of the specific relationships. We do know that any infection can trigger and
worsen atrial fibrillation in patients. We have seen COVID-19 cause rhythm problems such as complete heart block (which requires an emergency pacemaker) and the development of life-threatening arrhythmias called ventricular tachycardia.
The good news for current arrhythmia patients is that we have many options that allow us to monitor you from the comfort and safety of home. These include implanted devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators and looper recorders that can provide continuous monitoring. Non-implantable devices such as the KardiaMobile device or an Apple Watch can also track your rhythm, and their data can be sent to us for evaluation via WakeMed MyChart.
Finally, we urge you to stay in close contact with your care team, and alert us if you have new or worsening symptoms.
How can we stay healthy while social distancing?
Social distancing and gym closures have had an impact on people’s ability to stay active – and may have led to an increase in unhealthy eating habits. Remaining active in this ‘new normal’ is more important than ever since exercise can have a positive effect on the cells and molecules of the immune system.
It is paramount that we find creative ways to exercise regularly – even while social distancing. You can get active at home with your family, or virtually through exercise videos and apps. Take this opportunity to get more comfortable with new technologies – or stay active through walking, yard work or at-home exercises.
As it relates to diet, make sure you’re getting a well-balanced diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, and limit processed foods that are likely to be high in sodium, sugar and fat. Set activity goals and challenge yourself to meet them.
How can I look out for my mental health during COVID-19?
Anxiety and isolation are common concerns for everyone during COVID-19, but for heart patients, these problems can lead to undue stress that could have a negative impact on your heart health.
Try to stay connected to your friends and family – whether it’s through regular phone calls, Zoom meetings or social distancing visits. If you find yourself getting anxious about all that’s happening around us, talk to someone about your concerns, and try to limit your exposure to the news media – which can heighten feelings of worry.
Telehealth, Explained: The Doctor Will See You Now…Virtually.
Most of us grew up building a face-to-face relationship with our doctors, and something about that close, personal connection is comforting – particularly when discussing important topics like our long-term health and wellness. Fortunately, advancements in technology have allowed doctors to provide similar “face-to-face” care remotely.
Telehealth, the practice of using video/telephone interaction for the delivery of healthcare, has been around for decades in some form or fashion. Like most new technologies, though, adoption over the past several years has been slower than many experts had expected. Some preferred the comfort of in-person interaction, others feared the technology, while many healthcare providers didn’t offer the service. Until now, that is.
COVID-19, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders have accelerated the use of telehealth and WakeMed has responded quickly. When COVID-19 began ramping up earlier this spring, WakeMed moved full-speed ahead into the world of providing virtual visits to ensure our patients could get the important care they needed from the comfort and safety of home.
Virtual visits are now available at WakeMed for all specialties – ranging from heart and vascular to primary and urgent care, ENT, OB/GYN and everything in between.
Learn More About the WakeMed Heart Center
For decades, the WakeMed Heart Center has been the top destination in the region for heart surgery. To learn more, take a virtual tour, request an appointment with a surgeon – or stop by anytime. Our caring staff would love to meet you!