COVID-19 Q&A: Cardiovascular
The University of Maryland Heart and Vascular Center understands how patients have many questions about COVID-19. Learn more about heart-related topics and COVID-19 directly from our experts below.
The UM Heart and Vascular Center team is still seeing patients with urgent or emergent conditions. If you feel any sort of chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
For all non-urgent medical concerns, virtual appointments are now available for heart health services. We strongly encourage patients to schedule video and/or phone consults for appointments.
Limiting in-person visits will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and ensure the safety of our patients and staff. Learn more about the UMMS temporary visitor restrictions.
Please contact us to find out if telehealth is available for your next visit:
What does a respiratory (lung) virus like COVID-19 have anything to do with the heart?
The heart and lung work together in the body to maintain oxygenation. When the lung is affected, the heart may be affected also, especially a diseased heart. Based on the available data, about 40 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients may also have cardiovascular diseases.
If I have heart problems, does that mean I am more at risk or immunocompromised?
The virus can cause heart muscle or vessel damage and patients may suffer severe problems as a result. Patients with heart failure symptoms may have a harder time if affected by COVID-19 as their heart already has pumping problems.
Technically speaking, someone with a diagnosed heart problem is not immunocompromised; however, there are other conditions and immunosuppressing medications that can in fact make a patient immunocompromised. For example, a heart patient may have rheumatoid arthritis and is taking a steroid. This may weaken their immune system and put them at higher risk for infection.
Are symptoms of COVID-19 different for people with heart disease?
COVID-19 symptoms include:
- High fever
- Pain or pressure in the chest
- Shortness of breath
In severe cases, patients may have bluish lips and/or face. Affected patients may also be confused and cannot be awakened easily.
Symptoms from lung injury are the same for people with and without heart disease. However, it is important to note that some lung symptoms are also similar to heart problems such as shortness of breath, chest discomfort and do not in fact indicate COVID-19.
What do I do if I experience any of these symptoms?
If you experience any of the above feelings or have doubts about your symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately for guidance or call 410-328-7877 to speak with one of our cardiology experts.
If you experience severe breathing problems, have lasting chest pain or pressure, your lips or face turn bluish, or get confused, you should call 911 immediately.
What do we know about strokes and COVID-19?
We know that about 40 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients may have heart problems and stroke. Stroke patients may have increased risk for complications if they are affected by COVID-19.
Does COVID-19 do further damage to the heart or brain for people who have been diagnosed with heart disease or have had a stroke?
People with heart disease or those that have had a stroke are already at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19. The virus may damage the heart and slow down a patient's blood flow to the heart and brain.
I have read that older men are more likely to contract COVID-19. Why or why not?
Generally, people over 65 years old with coronary artery disease or hypertension (often more prevalent in men) may be more likely to be infected by COVID-19. Older people may have weaker immune response systems that put them at higher risk of infection.
I have high blood pressure. Am I more at risk for getting COVID-19? Should I keep taking my medication?
Younger patients with only high blood pressure may not be at significantly higher risk compared to others.
However, there is general consensus that patients who are older than 65 with hypertension and heart disease may be at a higher risk for COVID-19. These patients should take extra precautions and continue taking their medications unless otherwise advised by their doctor.
I regularly take blood thinners. Should I have a stockpile of my medications? If so, how large of supply do I need?
We recommend refilling at least a 90 day supply. In the short term, you may have the medications mailed to you via your pharmacy to limit pharmacy visits and unnecessary exposures.
What happens if someone who takes ACE-inhibitors or ARB medications contracts COVID-19?
Patients should continue taking their medications. There is a debate regarding certain antihypertensive medications, ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, for example Lisinopril) and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blocker, for example Losartan) that can make people prone to COVID-19 infection.
However, there has not been enough evidence to suggest this is true. So patients should continue with the medications unless they are otherwise advised by their doctors.
I recently had a stent put in, is there anything extra I should be doing during the pandemic?
The most important thing is prevention of COVID-19 exposure. We recommend staying home in the upcoming weeks to minimize the chance of getting exposed. Use extra precaution if you do have to leave the house. Pay extra attention to hand hygiene, do not touch your face, eyes, or nose, and wear a mask or covering on your face for precaution.
Remember you should continue to be active inside the house. If you have exercise equipment, continue to use them. If not, walking around the house, going up and down the steps works as well, just be active. Also, take this chance to modify your diet, change your cooking habits, and learn more about heart healthy meals that benefit you in the long term.
Are there any genetic components or congenital issues that could affect someone catching COVID-19?
So far, we are not aware of any genetic changes in our genome that will make us more prone to or more against COVID-19 infection.
However, patients with congenital heart disease, especially in those whose congenital defects have not been surgically corrected, may be at a higher risk of complications if affected by COVID-19 as their blood circulation has already been compromised. Extra hygiene precaution is always a good idea in these cases.
If I had a valve replacement recently, what precautions should I be taking during this COVID-19 crisis, besides social distancing and hand-washing?
There are no additional precautions other than what was relayed to you at the time of hospital discharge. For more information, see how to protect yourself from the coronavirus.
If my heart surgery has been postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, should I be worried?
No, all planned operations are reviewed with your cardiac surgeon and the clinical team, and only those that are safe to be postponed are delayed. Urgent and emergency operations are continuing to be performed.
We recommend that you keep in close contact with your nurse practitioner if your symptoms change or if you have other concerns. To speak with one of our cardiac surgery experts, call 410-328-5842.
What is the effect of COVID-19 on the vascular system?
While there isn't specific data on this, COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory virus but patients with vascular disease need to very wary of COVID-19 infection. Diagnosed vascular diseases are considered underlying health conditions that could predispose patients to a worse outcome if infected.
What symptoms does someone with vascular disease experience with COVID-19?
Coronavirus symptoms should not be different in patients with vascular disease and will consist of cough, fever and shortness of breath.
If I have peripheral artery disease (PAD), am I more at risk to catch COVID-19?
Patients with PAD are at increased risk of complications from COVID-19 because many of these people also have diabetes and heart disease which are among the more critical underlying conditions that worsen COVID-19 infection outcomes.
My hospital has a strict visitation policy right now but I have diabetes and my leg is turning blue, what should I do?
In this instance, you should call your doctor or UMMC vascular surgery at 410-328-5840. Our team is still seeing patients with urgent or emergent vascular conditions and can offer telemedicine as an alternative means to communicate live with one of our vascular specialists.