How to Keep Your Heart Healthy During the COVID-19 Pandemic

5 ways to protect your heart during COVID

You may have heard that heart health affects your risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus). And while it’s true that heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) put you at greater risk, there are things you can do to protect your heart during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Penn Medicine cardiologist Helene Glassberg, MD, recommends these five ways to protect your heart if you’re living with a chronic heart condition:


1. Keep Up Your New Normal

“The number one thing is to continue what you're doing, which is staying at home when possible, practicing safe distancing, and seeking medical attention if you're having problems.”

And Dr. Glassberg says to exercise conservative caution as your state reopens. “My job is to get my heart patients back to a normal life as soon as possible. I don’t want you to remain a heart patient with restrictions,” she says. “But this is the time where I'm going to suggest you continue to social distance, wear a mask, and sanitize as much as possible. Stay the course for as long as you can to stay well.”

2. Take Advantage of Telemedicine

At Penn, cardiologists offer video visits and phone calls to their patients in addition to necessary in-person appointments. “Communication with your doctor should be at the top of your list,” Dr. Glassberg says of heart patients. “People are very shy about the televisits, and that includes me. But they really do help, especially the video element. We can make sure you’re hitting your health goals, have your meds, and don’t have symptoms.”

3. Continue Taking Your Medications

With confusing news about common blood pressure medications and their connection to COVID-19 risk, you may be tempted to stop taking them. But the pendulum is swinging toward there being no cause for concern. In fact, a New England Journal of Medicine study concluded there was no link between blood pressure meds and COVID-19 risk.

Dr. Glassberg cautions that stopping meds would be a mistake without having a discussion with your health care provider first. “If a patient calls me and says, ‘I'm on a low-dose ACE inhibitor for my blood pressure; is there an alternative?’ I might consider switching them because they’re taking it just to manage blood pressure, and there are many alternatives. But for others, these medications can be extremely critical to keeping them out of heart failure. So we don't want people stopping them without conclusive science and data to suggest they should.”

4. Cultivate and Keep Up Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Dr. Glassberg says don’t forget the basics. Stay healthy by:

  • Communicating with your doctor
  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising
  • Getting enough rest
  • Monitoring blood pressure if you have hypertension or heart failure

5. Know When to Seek Emergency Care for COVID-19 and Heart Problems

Get to know the signs of a COVID-19 infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to watch out for:

  • Dry cough
  • Fever or chills
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Muscle pain
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

But heart and stroke symptoms also spell trouble — and could signal COVID-19 infection as well. Watch for:

  • Chest pain or pressure, especially during physical activity
  • Facial drooping on one side of the face
  • Arm weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Speech changes, including slurred or garbled speech
  • Loss of vision
  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing at night associated with:
    • Leg swelling
    • Dizziness
    • Fainting
    • Passing out

If you think you’re having a heart attack or some other heart issue, don't ride it out at home because you're worried about COVID,” says Dr. Glassberg. “It's really important to come in and get evaluated so you can get the problem taken care of early. At Penn, we're doing everything we can to protect you when you do. This includes new procedures to allow for physical distancing and infection control, and daily symptom screenings of staff and patients.”

Learn more about the connection between coronavirus and heart disease.

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.

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