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November 05, 2020

How to Recognize & Prevent Heart Disease During COVID-19

How to Recognize & Prevent Heart Disease During COVID-19

Have you given much thought to your heart this year?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have plenty on our mind already without considering our heart health. Social distancing has meant staying home, possibly moving less and eating more. Your health may be changing in ways you might not easily notice. Heart disease is the number one killer of Indiana residents, and many people don’t even know they have a problem.

“Unfortunately, each year about half a million people first realize they have heart disease when they’re in the midst of a heart attack, which can be fatal,” said IU Health cardiologist Subha Raman, MD. “The good news is that we have excellent, safe ways to detect and treat heart disease early to prevent such tragedies.”

Why is heart health important during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Heart disease the leading cause of death in the United States. Our risk for heart disease hasn’t disappeared because we’re staying home; it’s actually become even more deadly during the pandemic.

“The infection that causes the COVID-19 virus affects the cardiovascular system and can increase a person’s risk for severe illness,” said Dr. Raman. “We can prevent serious problems if people get their hearts evaluated before a tragic event occurs.”

How do I know if I have heart disease?

It’s important to know your risk factors for heart disease so that you can get the care you need. An estimated 47% of Americans have at least one of these three key risk factors for heart disease:

  1. Smoking
  2. High blood pressure
  3. High blood cholesterol

Several other factors, such as diabetes, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and a family history of heart disease can also put you at higher risk. Dr. Raman recommends that everyone think through their personal risk factors.

“If you aren’t feeling well or if you have any concerns about your health, take the time to have a conversation with a doctor to prevent worsening problems,” she said. “If you don’t know your cholesterol or blood pressure levels, or you haven’t been tested for diabetes, your doctor can help you fill in those gaps.”

I’m nervous about visiting a doctor’s office or hospital right now. How can I still learn about my risk for heart disease?

The pandemic has changed how we access healthcare. IU Health has taken the lead in making telehealth available to patients so they can visit a doctor from home. This includes cardiovascular care.

"With telemedicine, you can consult a cardiovascular expert from the comfort of your own home," said Dr. Raman. “It’s a simple and very powerful way to access timely heart care."

For in-person appointments, IU Health has taken a Safe Care Pledge to maintain high safety standards for our patients. This includes a universal mask policy, limited waiting room times, social distancing and continually disinfecting.

How do I know if I’m experiencing a heart attack?

Heart disease often appears “silent” in our bodies until we start noticing concerning symptoms. These may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Jaw pain
  • General sense of not feeling well or unease
  • Shortness of breath
  • Passing out

If you think you may be experiencing a heart attack, call 911.

"Over several decades, we’ve figured out how to take you from the onset of heart attack symptoms through well-coordinated, community-based emergency services and state-of-the-art hospital care to an excellent outcome," said Dr. Raman. "Although COVID-19 is new, we’ve always worked hard to prevent infections during heart and vascular care."

I know stress is hard on my heart, but how do I escape it?

Breathe. Managing your work, family and home life during a pandemic isn’t easy, and stress can be overwhelming. That added stress can damage your heart and blood vessels. Dr. Raman recommends having a “team” of friends or family who share the load of daily life. And while it may not feel like there are enough hours in a day, even a few minutes of quiet reflection and focusing on your breathing can help keep the harmful effects of inevitable stresses at bay.

I’m already too busy lately – how do I fit in preventative care like eating right and exercising?

Exercise is important for all aspects of your health, but it doesn’t have to mean hours at the gym. Dr. Raman suggests patients think beyond aerobic exercises and add in resistive exercise.

"Toning muscle with body-weight exercises or light weights at home can help you maintain a healthier metabolism that, in turn, improves cardiovascular health," she said.

When it comes to eating the right foods to fuel a healthy heart, Dr. Raman says now is the perfect time to get to know the produce aisle at your grocery store.

"Each time you sit down to eat, look at your plate: Half of it should be vegetables, a quarter should be healthy protein and a quarter can be healthy fat,” she said. “Minimizing processed foods and sugars will get you eating in the right direction."

      Schedule an Appointment with a Cardiologist Today

      If you have any concerning symptoms or a family history of heart disease, schedule a virtual visit with a highly skilled cardiologist at IU Health.

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