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Expert alert: Have heart disease? Protect your health during the COVID-19 pandemic

From Mayo Clinic News Network, Mayo Clinic News Network on

Published in Health & Fitness

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- People with heart disease and other underlying health conditions are at a high risk for becoming seriously ill if they develop COVID-19. Heart patients may question if they are doing the right things for their health at a time when there is little research available surrounding this new viral disease.

Stephen Kopecky, M.D., a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, talks about what heart patients need to consider in relation to COVID-19.

Flu shots important to head off viral inflammation

"One of the most important precautionary steps for a person with heart disease is to have the influenza vaccine," says Dr. Kopecky. "Research shows that people vaccinated for the flu reduced their risk ofhaving a heart attack or stroke by about 50% during that flu season."

While the flu shot won't prevent COVID-19, it can prevent influenza or at least reduce the severity of the flu. And when fewer people contract and spread the flu, it means fewer patients who need to be treated and more medical resources available right now for COVID-19.

Dr. Kopecky says that the influenza virus is dangerous for heart patients because it can cause an inflammatory reaction allover the body, and the inflammation can irritate the lining of the arteries. If those arteries are already strained with plaque buildup, the inflammation can lead to a tear. A blood clot could form, blocking blood flow to your heart orbrain causing a heart attack or stroke.

 

"Other respiratory viruses have a similar effect. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,or SARS-CoV-2, is the virus that causes COVID-19. It can increase bodywide inflammation just like the flu, and if you have heart disease, it can be a double problem if you get a SARS-CoV-2 infection," says Dr. Kopecky.

Medications

Considering the current need for social isolation to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is a good idea to check your supply of prescriptions and stock a month's supply now. Heart patients should not disrupt their medication schedule, unless directed to do soby their health care provider.

"If you are over age 75, then stopping a statin increases your risk for having to go into the hospital for a cardiac event by approximately one-third. Therefore, it is very important to continue statin use so you can stay away from hospitals," says Dr. Kopecky.

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