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COVID-19 and Heart Disease: Are You At a Greater Risk?

Updated on April 13, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H.
Article written by
Christine Sprunger

The past several weeks have been unprecedented in our lifetime. Social distancing, sheltering in place, and overburdened hospitals are disconcerting for anyone. Add in managing heart disease on top of trying to protect yourself from COVID-19, and things can feel even more challenging.

Are you at greater risk if you have heart disease? Should you keep taking your heart disease medications? These are the questions members of MyHeartDiseaseTeam are asking now. This article addresses:

  • Whether people with heart disease are at increased risk for COVID-19
  • The impact of heart disease medications and the severity of COVID-19
  • What to to do if you have heart disease and experience COVID-19 symptoms
  • Tips for managing your heart disease and your health in general

Does Heart Disease Raise Your Risk for COVID-19?

Having heart disease does not raise your risk for contracting COVID-19. In an April 1 podcast entitled “COVID-19 and Your Heart,” Dr. Samir Kapadia confirmed, “The risk of getting or contracting the virus is quite similar for all the patients. How sick you will get...depends on your comorbidities [related conditions]. It is not that if you have a heart problem, you are likely to contract the virus more compared to people who do not have heart disease.”

However, becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 is directly related to having heart disease, as confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College of Cardiology. Additionally, people over 65 also have an increased risk of having a serious outcome.

In a March 27 article, the Cleveland Clinic explained, “The new coronavirus is a respiratory disease, meaning it mostly affects the lungs. But when the lungs aren’t working at full capacity, the heart has to work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood around the body. That added stress can be dangerous for people with heart disease.”

Could Heart Disease Medications Increase the Severity of COVID-19?

There has been limited research regarding treatments for heart disease, namely ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), and how these medications may impact someone who contracts COVID-19.

Until there’s more research, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, and the Heart Failure Society of America are all advising people with heart disease to continue taking these medications.

In the April 1 podcast, Dr. Kapadia was asked, “Is it true that you should stop taking [ACE inhibitors and ARBs]?” “No,” he replied, “Because the harm that you can get from stopping these medications is much more than the potential benefit that you may have. You must contact your cardiologist if you have any [other] questions.”

Never make a change to your medications without first consulting your cardiologist.

What to Do if You Have Heart Disease and Experience COVID Symptoms

One challenge for those with heart disease is figuring out the difference between typical symptoms or complications from heart disease and the symptoms of a viral illness. Symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain may be confusing because these symptoms could be indicators of heart disease or COVID-19.

According to the American Heart Association, fever and body aches are common symptoms of COVID-19, but most people with heart disease do not experience these symptoms during a flare-up. It is important to be diligent about your health, monitor yourself for any changes in your symptoms and have a plan in place.

Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Paul Cremer expressed concerns about individuals with heart disease during the coronavirus outbreak. Interviewed in the March 27 article, Dr. Cremer stated, “I worry that some patients won’t seek out the urgent care or emergency treatment they need. If you have any concerning heart symptoms, please seek out care.”

Similarly, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) advised that it is important not to neglect symptoms of heart disease, In a March 31 question-and-answer article, the ESC stated, “If you experience worsening chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or experience fainting, you must call your emergency services provider who will make an assessment based on your symptoms before making a decision to transfer you to [the] hospital.”

How Can People With Heart Disease Best Protect Themselves From COVID-19 Infection?

COVID-19 is a new virus and doctors are learning more every day, so guidelines may change as the situation evolves. The CDC frequently updates its Situation Summary about COVID-19. There are also some important guidelines from the CDC in this video: COVID-19: What Older Adults Need to Know.

Here are some things you can do to stay healthy during this stressful time:

Lastly, while this is easier said than done during times like these, try to reduce your stress level. Studies show that reducing stress helps your heart.

Make a plan to reach out to friends or loved ones by phone or video chat to minimize feelings of isolation. As always, MyHeartDiseaseTeam offers a support group of nearly 29,000 other people facing the same condition as you, always available online.

What are you doing to stay healthy during the novel coronavirus emergency? How are you keeping stress in check? Please share in the comments below or post on MyHeartDiseaseTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Glenn Gandelman, M.D., M.P.H. is assistant clinical professor of medicine at New York Medical College and in private practice specializing in cardiovascular disease in Greenwich, Connecticut. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Christine Sprunger has a passion for helping people with chronic conditions explore and understand their treatment options, so they can make the best choices about their care. Learn more about her here.

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