Woman holding a stethoscope and heart shaped figure

Though COVID-19 commonly attacks the lungs, it can also affect your heart. In addition, having a heart condition makes you more vulnerable to severe illness from the virus.

Combining COVID-19 vaccines (initial doses and boosters) and preventive measures is very important for people with a heart condition or other underlying health problems.

Some lung symptoms are also similar to those of heart problems — such as shortness of breath and chest discomfort — and do not always indicate COVID-19. These could indicate a serious heart problem that requires medical attention. Learn More about when to seek care.

How COVID-19 Affects Your Heart and Lungs

Your heart and lungs work together to give your body the oxygen-rich blood it needs.

The lungs add oxygen to blood that is pumped out by the heart. Because it causes a strong immune response from the body, COVID-19 can cause tremendous lung damage, keeping oxygen from reaching the heart muscle. (Vaccination can help prevent this kind of overwhelming but nonproductive immune response.)

When the lungs aren't working properly, the heart has to work harder to get oxygen to other tissues in the body. This process is more difficult when the heart also is damaged by a COVID-19 infection or the body's immune response. Complications resulting from COVID can be even more problematic if you have an existing heart condition.

Too much inflammation from COVID-19 infection can further damage the heart and disrupt the electrical signals that help it to beat properly. This can reduce the heart's pumping ability and either lead to an abnormal heart rhythm or worsen an existing rhythm problem.

Conditions Associated with Heart-Related COVID-19 Complications

The following conditions may affect how COVID-19 affects your heart:

  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Coronary artery disease
  • History of myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Stroke
  • Vasculitis

Understanding Your Risk

People of any age with a heart condition are at greater risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. Older adults have an even higher risk. In general, the older you are, the more health conditions you have and the more severe those conditions are, the more important it is to get vaccinated and take preventive measures against COVID-19.

Patients with congenital heart disease, especially in those whose congenital heart defects that have not been surgically corrected, may be at a higher risk of complications because their blood circulation has already been compromised.

People with peripheral artery disease (PAD) are at increased risk of complications because many of them also have diabetes and heart disease, which are among the more critical underlying conditions that worsen COVID-19 infection outcomes.

Managing Your Heart Health

  • Work with your doctor to properly manage your specific heart condition.
  • Keep taking your medicine(s) as prescribed and do not change your treatment plan without speaking to your doctor.
  • Have at least a 30-day supply of prescription and non-prescription medicines.
  • Ask your healthcare provider, insurer or pharmacist about getting an extra supply of prescription meds to limit your trips to the pharmacy. We recommend patients refill at least a 90-day supply.
  • Do not delay getting care for your medical condition because of COVID-19. If you are concerned about in-person visits, ask about safety precautions for office visits and telemedicine visit options.

When to Seek Care

If you experience coronavirus symptoms, contact your doctor. You may also call the UMMS Nurse Call Line for guidance on your symptoms and how to get tested for coronavirus.

Getting Help for Heart Attacks and Strokes

University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) heart care teams treat patients for urgent or emergent conditions. If you experience severe breathing problems, feel lasting chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack, your lips or face turn bluish, or you get confused, call 911 immediately. Learn more about when to go to the hospital in an emergency.

Heart attacks and strokes are medical emergencies that need to be addressed as soon as you recognize symptoms.

Outcomes of heart attack and stroke greatly depend on how quickly care is administered, so do not hesitate to go to the hospital if you experience symptoms.

Symptoms of heart attack can include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck or back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms of stroke can include:

  • Weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding speech
  • Difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Practicing Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

Don't let your heart-healthy habits lapse.

  • Stay active. If you choose to avoid the gym during the pandemic, work out at your house. If you have our own exercise equipment, continue to use it. If not, keep active by doing things like walking around the house or going up and down the steps.
  • Modify your diet. Make changes to your cooking and eating habits that benefit you in the long term. Include more fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products in your diet. Consume less salt, saturated fat and added sugars.
  • Manage your stress. The added stress brought on by COVID-19 is an opportunity for you to assess your stress levels and whether your stress management techniques are effective.
  • Quit smoking. Remember, COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. Being a current or former smoker can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, as smokers may have reduced lung capacity. Plus, the act of bringing a cigarette to your mouth with hands that have not been washed or sanitized can put you at risk of getting the virus.

ACE Inhibitors and ARBs

There has been a debate regarding certain antihypertensive medications, ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or brand name Lisinopril) and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blocker or brand name Losartan) that were thought to make people more prone to COVID-19 infection and perhaps suffer worse outcomes.

However, there has not been enough evidence to suggest this is true. Use of these medications should continue unless otherwise advised by your doctor.

Updated 3/14/2022


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