COVID-19 and the Heart
How the Illness Impacts Those With Cardiovascular Disease
Updated January 2022
COVID-19 manifests itself differently in each person, but one particular group of patients is at higher risk for the most serious complications from the illness: those with underlying cardiovascular disease, such as:
- Heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
“The risk for getting the infection might not increase, but if you have the infection and underlying heart disease, the consequence is not only more serious, it can be dire,” says Clyde W. Yancy, MD, MSc, chief of Cardiology at Northwestern Medicine and vice dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Northwestern Medicine Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s sobering.”
In fact, 75% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 have had a high-risk condition, such as cardiovascular disease. And patients with pre-existing heart disease (which affects nearly half of adults in the U.S.), high blood pressure or diabetes are those most likely to need breathing support through a mechanical ventilator.
“We really worry about these patients,” Dr. Yancy says. “We are still trying to understand exactly how COVID-19, a respiratory disease of the lungs, impacts cardiovascular function. We’ve seen patients develop blood clots, which can impact cardiovascular function, and we are concerned about inflammation of the heart.”
Because people with high blood pressure, heart disease, or a history of heart attack or stroke are at a higher risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19, vaccination against the virus is especially important for this group. COVID-19 vaccines may reduce your risk of getting and spreading the illness. If you do get COVID-19, vaccination reduces your risk of serious illness, including hospitalization and death.
Learn more in the Northwestern Medicine COVID-19 Resource Center and get vaccinated.
Still Seek Care
An unexpected side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is fear of going to the emergency department for needed treatment for heart attack, stroke or other heart-related diseases. Dr. Yancy says anyone experiencing common symptoms of a heart attack, including but not limited to chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, vomiting, or pain between or behind the shoulder blades, should seek emergency care immediately.
"Across the country, we have seen missed heart attacks and more heart failure," Dr. Yancy says. "We are here to provide the safest, most effective care to all our patients. COVID-19 has been tragic enough; let's avoid delays and treat heart disease expeditiously and effectively."