Advice From Croí, the Heart & Stroke Charity COVID-19 and People Living with Heart Disease

The coronavirus pandemic has caused great alarm and distress across the country. Understandably, many of those living with heart disease are anxious and concerned.

While people of all ages can be infected by this new virus, it presents a greater risk for people over the age of 60 years of age and those who have underlying medical conditions, chief among them is heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

It’s well established that many virus infections can affect the heart, and coronavirus is no different. Viruses are known to cause inflammation of the heart muscle. While in a healthy patient this may not lead to an adverse outcome, the situation for those living with heart disease is different. If these individuals become infected with coronavirus they are at greater risk of adverse cardiac events and the outcomes may be poor.

“It is normal to feel concerned about COVID-19, especially if you are living with heart disease. While it is normal to feel anxious about how this condition might affect you, the first thing to know is that you are at no greater risk of developing COVID-19 than anyone else. However, if you do contract the virus you have a higher chance of developing complications,” says Croí Director of Programmes, Irene Gibson.

With the number of cases in Ireland increasing on a daily basis, hospitals are likely to experience an unprecedented increase in-patient admissions. Consequently, in anticipation some hospitals are cancelling clinics and limiting non-urgent activity to urgent and emergency cases so as to reduce the strain on staffing and beds.

It is important to remember that our hospitals will continue to treat heart patients, but the current pressures may result in delays, cancellations of appointments and disruption of services.

 

How do I reduce my risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus:

For those living with heart disease, prevention is key. Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

Coronavirus is spread by droplet infection – coughing and sneezing – or by close contact with someone who has the virus. As this is a new illness, we do not know how easily the virus spreads from person to person. Spread is most likely from those who have symptoms. It is very important therefore to limit close contact.

“Croí’s advice is to be extra vigilant and follow the advice of the HSE. Be aware of the symptoms of coranavirus and be extra vigilant in taking the recommended precautionary measures. Everyone has a role to play in reducing the spread of this virus and if we all take collective responsibility we will minimise the risk for everyone,” says Croí CEO, Neil Johnson.

 

Key things to remember are:

  • Stay at home as much as possible and limit your social contact, particularly with people who are unwell.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and hot water – do this for at least 20 seconds at each wash.
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands). Immediately after use, put your used tissues in the bin and then wash your hands.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
  • Do not share objects that touch your mouth, for example bottles or cups.
  • Do you best to follow all your medical advice on how to keep your condition well controlled.
  • Stay in regular contact with family, friends or neighbours as you may need to ask for help if you become sick.
  • Maintain a healthy diet – unless you have been advised to adhere to a specially prescribed diet, you should continue to try and eat a wide variety of foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and other essential nutrients.
  • Try and engage in some form of exercise everyday – even if it is only walking up and down the stairs if you are able.

 

For Family and Caregivers:

  • Know what medications are prescribed – maintain a list.
  • Watch for new symptoms.
  • Prepare a plan to make sure food and other supplies are available when needed.
  • Consider options and have a plan for what would happen if you become ill.

 

International heart specialists are offering the following advice and opinion for specific heart conditions, says Croí

  • Individuals who are immunosuppressed, such as heart transplant patients or cancer patients who also have heart disease and pregnant women with underlying cardiac conditions are probably the most vulnerable to this virus and need to be extra vigilant.
  • There is no evidence to-date that the virus infects implanted devices such as pacemakers and cardioverter defibrillators or causes infective endocarditis (infection) in those with heart valve disease.
  • Individuals with Brugada Syndrome (heart rhythm disorder), need to be mindful of developing high temperatures (above 39 degrees Celsius) and should treat accordingly.
  • Individuals who have previously suffered from myocarditis or pericarditis are not at any higher risk of developing the same condition with COVID-19.
  • To-date there is no evidence that the coronavirus directly infects the heart however the infection caused by the virus may worsen heart function and exacerbate symptoms in patients with heart failure.
  • For the general population, wearing a mask is only recommended if you are experiencing symptoms or caring for someone with symptoms. If you have a heart condition, wearing a mask may make breathing more difficult so you should consult your doctor for advice on this.
  • All those with heart conditions who are on medications should take all their medications exactly as prescribed. Do not make any changes without firstly contacting your doctor or nurse.

Despite all the focus on coronavirus, the usual amount of heart attacks and strokes will continue to occur in our community. It’s important therefore to remind people not to delay if they are experiencing signs or symptoms of heart attack or stroke. If you do experience chest pains or stroke symptoms, please do not delay in calling 999 or 112. The emergency departments are still open for heart and stroke patients in all hospitals.

“While the Croí Heart & Stroke Centre is not currently running face to face classes or programmes, our health team are here as always to answer your questions so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us or visit our website for support resources,” says Irene Gibson, Director of Programmes.

 

You can contact the Croí Health Team on 091-544310 Monday – Friday from 9:00am – 5:30pm or you can email us at healthteam@croi.ie.

The Croí website (www.croi.ie) is regularly updated with the latest advice on COVID-19, along with practical guides and tips to help you achieve a healthy lifestyle.  

COVID-19: Advice for individuals with Heart Valve Disease

People living with moderate or severe heart valve disease are at increased risk of complications if affected by COVID-19. Those at greatest risk are individuals with severe disease, significant ongoing symptoms or awaiting valve surgery.

It is important to remember that hospitals will continue to treat heart patients, but the current pressures may result in delays, cancellations of appointments and disruption of services.

This advice is based on information from the Heart Valve Disease Patient Council of the Global Heart Hub. Croí is a member of the Global Heart Hub.

What should I do if I am due to have heart valve surgery or have a heart valve procedure?

If you are due to have surgery you should continue to prepare for it unless told otherwise by your clinician. If your surgery is rescheduled for a later date you should monitor your symptoms closely. If your symptoms get worse and you begin to feel unwell you should report this to your GP, call your hospital medical team or in severe cases, call the emergency services.

 

What should I do if I have recently had heart valve surgery or a heart valve procedure?

Patients who have recently had a procedure have an increased risk of infections due to cuts/incisions which may be exposed to germs. The normal risk of infection for heart valve disease patients is low, but in the current situation you should take every extra measure to limit your risk of infection. If you do begin to feel unwell you should contact your hospital medical team or call the emergency services.

 

How do I reduce my risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus:

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. As you are at higher risk of a more serious illness if you contract coronavirus you are being advised to stay at home as much as possible and to limit your social contact.

We strongly urge you to take extra care in ensuring you follow all of the recommended precautions.

You need to be extra vigilant, be aware of your symptoms and take the recommended precautionary measures by physically distancing.

 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

For further information on COVID-19 virus and symptoms see Croí’s advice here.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and feel you need medical help, you should follow the guidelines issued by your health authority on how best to seek medical help.

Any heart valve patient with progressive or new onset symptoms, particularly syncope (fainting, ‘passing out’ or collapse) should contact their doctor immediately.

See Croí’s health page for more information on heart valve disease.

The Croí Health Team is here as always if you need support. Contact us by email at healthteam@croi.ie or call 091-544310.