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COVID-19 and Heart Health – Are They Connected?

Woman wearing a mask

For several months now, Canada and the world have been grappling with the deadly coronavirus outbreak, also known as COVID-19. Most of us have been keeping a close eye on the news for updates and guidance on how to best protect ourselves from the virus. We know that the aging population, newborns, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk. But what about heart attack survivors or those with heart conditions? Is there a connection between COVID-19 and heart health? 

It’s still very early to definitively link COVID-19 to heart health issues. However, there is strong evidence, which suggests that individuals with pre-existing health and/or heart conditions may be more susceptible to the virus. Note: Following the guidelines and safety precautions outlined by each province’s Chief Medical Officer can help to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Individuals with Pre-Existing Heart Conditions
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, although COVID-19 affects the lungs and respiratory system, it can have serious consequences to your heart health. Current data shows that people with pre-existing heart conditions are at a higher risk of catching the virus, which can be very hard to recover from once infected. “Emerging data shows that people with heart conditions are four times more likely to die from the virus than patients with no underlying conditions.”

Individuals with High Blood Pressure
Of those Canadians who were infected by COVID-19, up to 1 in 3 (15 to 31 percent) had a man taking blood pressurehistory of hypertension (high blood pressure). Compared to someone who is healthy and has no underlying health issues, those with high blood pressure are nearly 2.5 times more likely to die if they contract COVID-19. There also is some early evidence, which shows a relationship between high blood pressure medication and an individual’s risk for contracting COVID-19. The Harvard Gazette reported that doctors are concerned that blood pressure medications could increase the number of ACE2 receptors expressed on cells, possibly creating more molecular gates for the virus to enter.

How Does COVID-19 Affect the Heart?
The Mayo Clinic reports that heart failure can develop due to a systemic inflammatory response to the infection, high lung pressures from lung damage, or occur from heart inflammation known as myocarditis. Older patients who present existing heart health issues or high blood pressure will have an increased chance of heart failure, which results from the increased demand place on the heart when a person contracts COVID-19. Watch the video below for more information from Dr. Leslie Cooper, a Cardiologist from the Mayo Clinic.

How to Protect Your Health and Your Heart During COVID-19two women sitting physically distanced
Everyone, but especially those with heart conditions, must follow the strict guidelines in place in order to protect themselves and all Canadians. To recap what has been communicated by the Alberta government:

  • practice physical distancing (at least two metres);
  • practice good hygiene, which includes washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap, cover coughs and sneezes and avoid touching your face;
  • monitor for symptoms like cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose or sore throat;
  • self-isolate for the legally required 10 days, if you present any symptoms that are not related to a pre-existing illness or medical condition; and
  • take the COVID-19 self-assessment test, if required.

COVID-19 presents dangers and challenges for everyone. The best possible course of action is to practice vigilant physical distancing and good hygiene. If you have a pre-existing heart condition, vigilance is key. Physical distancing is key. If it’s possible, stay home and have friends and/or family members deliver groceries and other essentials items. 

Health related questions or concerns can be directed to Health Link 811, which provides free 24/7 access to a nurse who can provide general health information.