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FAQs about COVID-19 posed by patients with heart disease

Heart Health | February 17, 2021
healthcare provider looks through heart-hands
What should you know about coronavirus and cardiac conditions? Here are answers from a PeaceHealth heart specialist.

In the months since COVID-19 emerged, medical experts have learned a lot about the threat it poses to people who have underlying chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease. In some instances, the findings offer a measure of reassurance to this vulnerable patient population; in other instances, the findings raise grave concerns.

Simply knowing the facts from trusted sources is one way for patients who have chronic conditions to gain an advantage over the pandemic.

Here you will find answers to common coronavirus-related questions posed by patients with heart disease.

This Q&A is based on expertise provided by PeaceHealth cardiologist, Spencer Hinds, MD, of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cardiovascular Center, in addition to leading national sources such as the American Heart Association. 

Q: Am I more likely to get COVID-19 if I have a pre-existing heart condition?

A: No. Anyone can be infected by the coronavirus and get COVID-19. However, you may be more likely to have a more severe reaction to the COVID-19 infection than others.

Q: Am I more likely to die from my COVID-19 infection due to my underlying heart disease?

A: Yes (statistically). First, take comfort in knowing that most patients, even those with underlying heart disease, have mild COVID-19 infections and recover. Also, patients may be able to influence the outcome of this illness with healthy lifestyle practices. “Individuals who are a bit more active, compared with sedentary individuals, may do better if illness strikes,” says Dr. Hinds.

However, data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows COVID-19 patients with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease are six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die than patients without any chronic health problems. Advanced age, a prevalent characteristic of heart disease, is a factor that increases the risk of death following COVID-19 infection. Also, specific types of heart disease warrant extreme caution and heighten the risks of complications – and even death – from COVID-19, including these common heart conditions:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Heart failure
  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure

Q: If I only have plaque buildup, does my mild heart disease put me at the same level of risk as people with more severe heart disease?

A: No. So be sure to continue your cholesterol medications, as prescribed, and exercise daily.

Q: If I suspect I have COVID-19, should I seek immediate medical attention given my pre-existing heart condition. 

A: Maybe. First, you can likely manage mild symptoms – for example, low-grade fever and body aches -- at home. During home recovery, be sure to connect with your doctor to monitor for any troubling signs or symptoms (including behavioral health side effects).  If you’re unable to manage the symptoms at home – particularly shortness of breath – seek urgent medical attention. As always, call 9-1-1 immediately if you experience the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. 

Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for people with heart problems?

A: Yes. COVID-19 vaccines pose no special problems for heart patients. In fact, according to a statement from the American Heart Association, people with heart problems should get vaccinated “as soon as possible.”  Rest assured, the currently approved COVID-19 vaccines – Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech – were tested in people with heart conditions and found to be safe and effective.

Q: If I have a heart condition, am I more likely to have side effects from the vaccine?

A: No. A heart condition does not make side effects (or a severe reaction) any more likely. According to the American Heart Association, the risk of complications from the vaccine is small, even for people with underlying health conditions.

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