At the beginning of the pandemic, many health experts believed COVID-19 was a respiratory disease. However, almost a year later, experts have learned a significant amount of information about the virus, how it’s transmitted and what organs it affects.
In a recent video, Dr. Mitch Elkind, American Heart Association president and a stroke neurologist at Columbia University, broke down the ways in which COVID-19 impacts your heart and heart function.
The virus was originally thought to be a lung disease because of the way the virus enters the body – by binding to a receptor called Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). Because the lungs are the first stop for the virus when contracted, it was thought to be solely a respiratory disease, but this enzyme is also present on the heart and on the linings of the blood vessels that go throughout the body – known as the endothelium.
Every blood vessel is lined with these cells. It acts as skin within the blood vessels and is very important for regulating the function of the blood vessel. This virus will bind to that enzyme on the inside surface of the blood vessel and go into that layer where it can set off blood clotting, which is why clotting throughout the body is commonly seen in patients with COVID-19.
This, and other evidence, suggests COVID-19 can be more threatening for people with heart disease. Heart attacks and congestive heart failure have been linked to COVID-19 patients with pre-existing heart conditions. This is explained by the increased demands placed on the heart, including accelerated heart rate initiated by low oxygen levels due to respiratory symptoms, myocarditis and increased susceptibility for blood clot formation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there is currently no evidence to suggest that taking any specific medications, like blood pressure medication or ibuprofen, leads to more severe illness from COVID-19.
In order to combat additional complications due to the coronavirus, heart disease patients are instructed to continue taking medication exactly as prescribed. Individuals with hypertension are advised to remain vigilant in managing their blood pressure and continuing to take medication as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns regarding your medications.
COVID-19 affects individuals differently and there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the virus. If you have a pre-existing condition, such as heart disease, it’s important to understand how the virus may impact you differently than individuals in other high-risk groups.
To access more frequently asked questions surrounding the relationship between COVID-19 and heart disease, visit www.heart.org/en/coronavirus.