Coronavirus questions for heart and stroke patients
I have COVID-19 symptoms. What should I do?
If you think you have the virus (or if you know you do), contact your primary care professional for guidance. Don’t go out except for medical visits. Wear a mask covering your nose and mouth when around others, even in your home, if you can. Wash your hands frequently, and disinfect commonly touched surfaces.
Make sure appropriate caregivers are available at home. Ensure there’s a separate bedroom or other space (and ideally, a separate bathroom) where you can recover without sharing space with others. Read more about coronavirus precautions and browse tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you’re over age 65 or have a medical condition that puts you at high risk for developing severe disease — and you’ve had symptoms for no more than 10 days — ask your health care team if you’re a candidate for a type of therapy called monoclonal antibodies. This treatment, a one-time infusion given early in the course of your illness, might reduce your risk of hospitalization or death. The Department of Health and Human Services maintains a web page explaining this and other available COVID-19 treatments.
I’ve heard COVID-19 isn’t just a respiratory disease. What other effects can the virus have in the body?
Doctors say the coronavirus damages almost every major bodily system. The virus can affect not just the lungs, but the heart, brain, kidneys, liver, skin, nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. Symptoms and conditions linked to COVID-19 include rash, headaches, nausea and vomiting, elevated liver enzymes and bilirubin, high blood sugar, acute kidney injury, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, damage to the heart muscle, arrhythmias and stroke. Check with your primary care professional about symptoms that concern you, and for severe symptoms seek emergency care.
What is "long-haul COVID-19"?
An estimated 10% of people who’ve had COVID-19 — many of them without symptoms — experience long-term, potentially disabling effects of the illness, called long-haul COVID or just long COVID. Common symptoms of long COVID include persistent fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, and pain in the chest or joints.
"Long-haulers," as patients with this condition are called, also report problems like foggy thinking, a pounding or racing heart, depression, muscle pain, headache and intermittent fever. More serious complications can affect the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys and skin.
What do I need to know about the coronavirus if I have a heart valve problem?
The American Heart Association advises people with heart disease and cardiovascular risk factors to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Because of your condition you might face higher risks of complications from COVID-19 if you contract the disease, which makes caution essential. Do everything possible to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, and follow expert advice after vaccination. Staying home and away from other people you don’t live with is critically important — especially if you are in your 60s or older. And of course remain focused on the safety basics: wearing a mask when you’re out, handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, not touching surfaces and cleaning surfaces diligently.
Remember to take your medications as prescribed, stay in contact with your health care team, and be sure to eat well and be physically active. If you are preparing for a procedure, get plenty of rest. Dr. Suzanne Arnold answers more of your questions in this video.
Is there a place where I can easily reach out to other cardiovascular patients and survivors?
Yes, the AHA’s Support Network is just such a place. It’s an online community of survivors, caregivers, family members and friends. You’ll find information, advice and encouragement regarding many medical conditions as well as other topics. Hop on! It’s easy to join — and it’s free.
Should heart and stroke patients continue rehabilitation?
First, call to see if your rehabilitation center is still operational. If it’s closed, here are some exercises for stroke survivors you can try at home. You can also consult with your health care team about whether you’re a candidate for home health visits to continue your rehabilitation.
If your rehabilitation center is open and you’d like to go back, check the center’s website or call and ask about precautions the center is taking to prevent COVID-19’s spread. Then talk with your health care team about the risk vs. benefits of continuing outpatient rehabilitation.
What do I need to know about the coronavirus if I have high blood pressure?
Because of your condition you might face a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 if you contract the disease. The AHA urges that you get vaccinated, with any federally authorized vaccine that’s available to you, as soon as possible. Here’s more of what you need to know.
It’s prudent to be cautious and do everything possible to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Staying away from other people outside your household is important — especially if you are in your 60s or older. And don’t forget the safety basics: wearing a mask in public, handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, not touching surfaces, and disinfecting surfaces regularly. The CDC has a full list of recommended precautions and offers advice for what you can do after you’re fully vaccinated.
Also, continue taking all your medications as prescribed, including ACE inhibitors and ARBs. There is no evidence that these medicines increase your risk of contracting COVID-19. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, you should be thoroughly evaluated before adding or removing any treatments. And high blood pressure patients and diabetes patients should both keep in mind that your overall medical condition is much better if your blood pressure and diabetes are optimally controlled.
If I only have plaque buildup, does my mild heart disease put me at the same level of risk as people with more severe heart disease?
That’s unclear. The coronavirus’s inflammatory effects in theory could heighten your risk of heart attack, so if you have COVID-19 and severe chest discomfort or other cardiac symptoms, seek help immediately. Your best bet is to get vaccinated, take all the recommended precautions to avoid getting COVID-19 in the first place, and to stay heart-healthy by continuing your cholesterol medications and getting appropriate exercise each day.
What should children and adults with congenital heart defects, or those caring for them, be doing?
Congenital heart defects can vary widely in severity, and researchers don’t yet know much about COVID-19’s impact in these patients as a group. Experts advise patients 16 and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as they have the chance. (Vaccines are not yet authorized in younger patients.)
These patients also should be doing the same as everyone else in terms of coronavirus prevention. In addition, people with congenital heart defects should continue to take regular medications and call their health care team if there are any new symptoms or problems — and seek emergency help for severe symptoms.
What do I need to know about the coronavirus if I have heart failure?
Because of your condition you face higher risks of complications from COVID-19 if you contract the disease, which makes caution extremely important. First thing: The AHA advises you to get vaccinated, with any available vaccine, as soon as you can. Also, avoid exposure to the coronavirus. Staying home and away from other people is critically important — especially if you are unvaccinated or in your 60s or older. And don’t forget the safety basics: wearing a mask in public, handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, not touching surfaces, and cleaning surfaces diligently. The CDC has a full list of recommended precautions.
Stay in contact with your health care team, eat well, be physically active and take all your medications as prescribed, including ACE inhibitors and ARBs. (Make sure you have at least a 30-day supply of each of your medicines for heart disease.) If you aren’t already doing so, make note of your symptoms each day so you can better manage your condition. (You can use our HF Symptom Tracker.) And be sure to seek emergency help right away if needed.
I heard a rumor that my medication could put me at risk. Is that true?
The first thing you should do if you hear a rumor about your medication is contact your health care professional or pharmacist. Early in the pandemic there was unsubstantiated information going around about potential COVID-19 risks for patients who were already prescribed medications for high blood pressure, heart failure and other heart disease. The AHA, Heart Failure Society of America and American College of Cardiology jointly published a statement providing expert guidance, including advice for patients to continue use of prescribed drugs known as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB).
Check in with your health care team regularly. Physicians should re-evaluate the use of the drugs in patients who have COVID-19, experts say, noting that research into this question is continuing.
What do I need to know about the coronavirus if I have atrial fibrillation?
It’s not yet clear whether Afib specifically increases your risk of complications if you contract COVID-19, but in general, heart conditions are a concern. Many AFib patients are older and have other cardiovascular conditions that evidence shows do increase risk, such as heart failure or Type 2 diabetes.
To be safe, get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as you can, and do everything possible to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. Remember the safety basics: wearing a mask in public, handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, not touching surfaces, cleaning surfaces diligently. The CDC has a full list of recommended precautions. And don’t forget to take your medications as prescribed, stay in contact with your health care team, and be sure to eat well and be physically active.
Should I avoid contact with pets if I’m sick with COVID-19?
Yes, you should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you’re sick with COVID-19, just like you should with people, according to the CDC. A few pets have been reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after contact with people who have the disease. But routine testing of animals isn’t recommended. There’s no evidence pets or other animals in the U.S. might be a source of infection with the coronavirus, but animals can spread other diseases to people, so always practice healthy habits after being around them.
The CDC recommends practicing social distancing when walking dogs: Use a leash, maintain at least 6 feet from other people and animals, and do not let other people pet your dog when out for a walk. It’s also recommended that you keep your cats indoors. For more information, see these FAQs.
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