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How the Illness Impacts Those With Cardiovascular Disease

COVID-19 manifests itself differently in each person, but one particular group of patients is at particular risk for the most serious complications from the illness: those with underlying cardiovascular disease.

“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.”

Patients with pre-existing heart disease (which affects nearly half of American adults), 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.”

One particular burden for elderly patients with cardiovascular disease is that they are encouraged to remain safely isolated, but this should be physical, not social isolation.

“The consequences can be devastating to our beloved elderly if they contract COVID-19,” says Dr. Yancy. “I know we all love our parents and grandparents and want to, and should support them, but we should do so from a safe distance.”

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 and without delay.

“Across the country, we have seen missed heart attacks and more heart failure. Hospitals, including those in the Northwestern Medicine system, have clear protocols for testing and treating patients with COVID-19 separately from other patients,” he says. “We are here to provide the safest, most effective care to all our patients. COVID19 has been tragic enough; let’s avoid delays and treat heart disease expeditiously and effectively.”

Clyde W. Yancy, MD
Clyde W. Yancy, MD
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  • Primary Specialty Heart Failure and Heart Transplantation
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