The coronavirus should now have everyone’s attention. In this report by SADE OGUNTOLA, experts say that people with heart disease should have extra reasons to be alert because people over 65 with coronary heart disease or hypertension are more likely to be infected and to develop more severe symptoms.
People with heart disease and other underlying health conditions are at high risk of becoming seriously ill if they develop COVID-19. Now, experts warn that COVID-19 could even worsen an underlying heart conditions.
They found that the illness caused by the coronavirus had some evidence of heart damage. Reasons are unclear, but they had myocarditis, a kind of heart inflammation that has been seen in patients with other viral infections, such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) — also caused by a coronavirus — and the H1N1 swine flu.
A China study had found that 20 per cent of hospitalised COVID-19 patients showed signs of heart damage. It was published in JAMA Cardiology.
Also, a patient presented at a hospital in Brooklyn in New York with ominous heart rhythm and high blood levels of a protein called troponin – two hallmark signs of a heart attack.
However, tests revealed that the man was not having a heart attack at all, and instead had been infected with the coronavirus.
The New York case comes shortly after a study by researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston found that coronavirus can cause heart injury even in patients without underlying heart conditions. It was published in JAMA Cardiology.
While the new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, mostly infects the lungs, causing pneumonia in severe cases, cardiologists now believe that it could also affect the heart.
Doctors say the impact on the heart may be because the body’s immune system might be causing it by going too far in fighting the coronavirus, overproducing a chemical that causes inflammation. Or maybe lung infections caused by the virus are directly giving rise to heart problems.
Dr Abiodun Adeoye, a consultant cardiologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, said although much about COVID-19 is not known, it can knock down the lungs, leaving the heart also compromised.
According to him, “It is possible that even in the absence of previous heart disease, the heart muscle can be affected by coronavirus disease.”
Dr Adeoye declared that COVID-19 in a person already with a heart problem, the risk of it affecting the heart muscles is higher, adding that such individuals also stand a higher risk of dying because their ability to cope with the course of the infection is lower.
He, however, advised individuals with cardiovascular problems such as hypertension, stroke and heart disease to only go out of the house when it is absolutely necessary during this COVID pandemic.
“They should stock their drugs and they should be compliant with their medications and not skip any dose. If they notice any upper respiratory infection like catarrh, they should contact their doctor on time; it does not have to be COVID-19, it might be other things,” he said.
Dr Adeoye declared that influenza or flu vaccine for people with a heart condition is also advisable.
“We have not started the flu jab in Nigeria, but an international study on which we collaborated with others in Canada shows that it is helpful. From its outcome, some people that might have died from heart failure are still alive even four years afterwards because they were given that vaccine,” he added.
While the flu shot won’t prevent COVID-19, it can prevent influenza or at least reduce the severity of the flu. And when fewer people contract and spread the flu, it means fewer patients who need to be treated and more medical resources available right now for COVID-19.
Experts say that the influenza virus is dangerous for heart patients because it can cause an inflammatory reaction all over the body and the inflammation can irritate the lining of the arteries.
If those arteries are already strained with plaque buildup, the inflammation can lead to a tear. A blood clot could form, blocking blood flow to the heart or brain causing a heart attack or stroke.
Dr Adeoye also stressed the need for any patient with heart disease to maintain a healthy diet and weight as well as continue with the recommended exercise routines even during this pandemic.
Besides providing the comfort of keeping a routine, regular exercise helps relieve stress and maintain weight.
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