Here’s What’s Known About Coronavirus and Heart Health

Data provides insights for people with cardiovascular conditions

Photo: Nipitphon Na Chiangmai/EyeEm/Getty Images

The more that’s learned about Covid-19, the more it’s clear the virus wreaks havoc on all organs in the body, the heart included. Some data has shown that people with severe Covid-19 infections experienced heart-related health problems as a result of the infection.

This could be happening for a few reasons. For one, cells in the heart and lungs are covered with ACE-2 receptors that work as the doorway for the coronavirus to enter cells and replicate. There’s also a potential risk for oxygen loss, which can put a strain on the heart. Viruses can cause inflammation, which prevents oxygen from reaching the bloodstream, making the heart work harder. Viruses are also known to cause cardiomyopathy, which is a heart muscle disorder that can interfere with the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

While pre-existing cardiovascular disease doesn’t seem to make people any more likely to contract Covid-19, it does look like having a heart condition can make the course of infection worse. Data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in June showed that people with Covid-19 who had underlying conditions like cardiovascular disease were six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die from the disease compared to people without chronic health issues.

There’s also a risk that people are dealing with heart complications during the pandemic because they are not getting medical attention. Hospitals have been seeing fewer people in the emergency room with heart attacks and strokes, and there’s concern that people do not want to seek medical attention for symptoms due to fears of contracting Covid-19. A recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine looking at five health care systems in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and New York reported drops in emergency department visits between 40% and 60% in the first four months of 2020, with the most significant decreases in March.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people with heart issues do what they can to protect themselves from the coronavirus, including asking people who they interact with to wear masks. “People with cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, should be particularly careful about ways to avoid catching the virus,” said Mitchell Elkind, MD, professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City in advice for the AHA. “They should be particularly careful to avoid crowds, to socially distance, to wash their hands frequently, to minimize the number of times they need to go out shopping, and so forth.”

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that

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