Strong evidence exists showing the coronavirus and heart disease complement each other as far as harming people who possess those ailments even at the same time but physicians say healthy living and responding to medical episodes in a timely fashion may negate the impact of the afflictions.
During a July 8 press briefing, the D.C. Department of Health presented PowerPoint slides showing the link between coronavirus complications and heart disease. One of the slides listed the maladies people suffering from heart disease and stroke exhibit that could serve as a trigger for the coronavirus: hypertension, stroke, diabetes, obesity, bad chronic lung, kidney and liver conditions, and those with compromised immune systems. Another slide read bluntly “heart attacks, strokes and cardiac arrests don’t stop for COVID-19” and Dr. Reginald L. Robinson, who practices with MedStar Health Cardiology Associates in the District and Bowie, Md., agrees.
“Twenty to 30 percent of COVID-19 patients in D.C. have had a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke,” Robinson said. “It has become apparent that people have stopped calling 911 because they believe they won’t be served at a hospital because of the coronavirus pandemic and that is simply not true.”
In 2014, the health department released a study, “The Burden of Cardiovascular Disease in the District of Columbia,” revealing heart disease and stroke rank first and fourth, respectively, among the 10 leading causes of death in the city and overall cardiovascular deaths account for nearly one-third of deaths. The study mentioned heart disease as one of the top reasons people seek the services of a hospital.
A slide indicated heart attack victims display symptoms such as chest discomfort; uneasiness in other areas of the upper body such as pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; and other signs as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea and lightheadedness. Another slide disclosed stroke sufferers’ manifesting face drooping, arm weakness and speech difficulty. Robinson said unmanageable stress can play a role in whether a person has a cardiovascular episode in addition to a diet high in cholesterol, overeating, lack of exercise, and smoking. Robinson said external factors play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease and the coronavirus, too.
“Many people who tend have heart disease and the coronavirus, whether one or both, live in food-insecure neighborhoods where health equity is an issue,” he said. “These people have limited transportation options, substandard housing and have concerns with the police. They tend to walk more to get around, buy food and drinks from liquor stores and carryouts and to get to a good grocery store they have to take a few buses. All factor into people having bad heart health and make them susceptible to the coronavirus.”
The American Heart Association, of which Robinson serves as a board member of the District’s and Mid-Atlantic Region chapters, has advice on its website on combatting COVID-19. Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the organization’s chief medical officer for prevention, wrote the post for the site, advising people to practice social distancing, wash hands frequently, avoid touching public surfaces, wear face coverings, cover coughs and sneezes with tissues and avoid touching mouths, noses or eyes. Sanchez encourages individuals to seek care at a hospital as soon as possible if they are having a cardiovascular episode and not be concerned about the presence of COVID-19 patients. He noted first responders are well-trained in avoiding spreading germs to non-coronavirus patients.
Dr. Jacqueline Bowens, president of the D.C. Hospital Association, agreed with Sanchez.
“Don’t delay care,” Bowens said. “Your health must be a priority and annual visits to the doctor must be engaged. The hospitals are safe in the District and ready to take one anyone having a medical problem even if it is not COVID-19 related. Delaying medical treatment could make your health situation worse and impact your ability to recover.”