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Use Heart to Fight COVID-19

People with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

By the beginning of 2020, when we heard of a novel coronavirus with potentially severe consequences, the race was on to learn everything we could and should about it. Before long, and with so much still to be discovered, an unfortunate trend emerged: COVID-19 posed a particular risk to patients with underlying issues such as heart disease, which is already the leading cause of death on the planet.

Also emerging was a worrying trend that heart patients, who would usually seek routine care or need to access emergency services for non-COVID-related issues, were avoiding hospitals and doctors. Across the board, countries noted this dramatic drop, attributing it to fear of contracting the virus.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), at the root of coronavirus disease or COVID-19, has been claiming lives in ways as diverse as the patient complications observed. It is highly transmissible and strikes with varying forms of severity.

About CVD and COVID-19

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) patients are more susceptible to severe COVID-19. Diseases affecting some form of heart condition or heart function include hypertension and diabetes, acute coronary syndrome, injury to muscles tissues of the heart, (myocardial injury), heart failure, and less heard of but prevalent diseases such as rheumatic heart disease and Chagas disease.

Some practical recommendations, also summed up in the article “Understanding the COVID-19 heart connection in low-resource settings” aims to support care-giving and treatment, with guidelines across the board. Some key takeaways are:

  • COVID-19 patients need to be triaged or designated for care based on disease severity so that patients with moderate and severe disease are admitted in a separate ward or hospital depending on the available infrastructure.
  • Further, patients also need to be triaged based on underlying health risks such as hypertension, diabetes, prior cardiovascular or respiratory disease, kidney failure and cancer as part of the process to identify patients with a higher likelihood of developing a severe form of COVID-19 and implement targeted care.
  • Special attention must be given to ensuring that there are separate facilities in place for dealing with COVID-19 cardiac patients and non-COVID-19 cardiac patients including catheterization laboratories for performing invasive heart examinations.

Use Heart to Beat COVID-19

  • Cut down on sugary beverages and fruit juices – choose water or unsweetened juices instead
  • Swap sweet, sugary treats for fresh fruit as a healthy alternative
  • Try to eat 5 portions (about a handful each) of fruit and veg a day – they can be fresh, frozen, tinned or dried
  • Keep the amount of alcohol you drink within recommended guidelines
  • Try to limit processed and prepackaged foods that are often high in salt, sugar and fat
  • Make your own healthy school or work lunches at home
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 times a week
  • Or at least 75 minutes spread throughout the week of vigorous-intensity activity
  • Playing, walking, housework, dancing – they all count!
  • Be more active every day – take the stairs, walk or cycle instead of driving
  • Stay fit at home – even if you’re on lockdown you can join virtual exercise classes and workouts for the whole family
  • Download an exercise app or use a pedometer to keep track of your progress
  • It’s the single best thing you do to improve your heart health
  • Within 2 years of quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease is substantially reduced
  • Within 15 years the risk of CVD returns to that of a non-smoker
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke is also a cause of heart disease in non-smokers
  • So by quitting (or not starting in the first place), you’ll not only improve your health but that of those around you
  • If you’re having trouble stopping, ask for professional advice and ask your employer if they provide smoking-cessation services
  • Wash your hands frequently – use soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Maintain social distancing – avoid greetings and keep over 2 meters apart
  • Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover up to protect others – always cough or sneeze in a tissue or your elbow
  • See medical advice early – call your doctor if you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing
  • Stay at home, stay informed – follow advice from authorities and health professionals