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Protect Your Heart From COVID-19 During American Heart Month

By: Joseph A. Craft, III, MD, FACC

Since 1964, February has been recognized as American Heart Month to encourage Americans to join the battle against heart disease. 

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women and men in the United States, accounting for one in every four deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Add in the pandemic and implications of COVID-19 on heart health, and it’s more important than ever to know your risk factors for heart and vascular disease. People with poor cardiovascular health are also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The good news? It’s easy to make a difference in your heart health. Small steps we can take every day to decrease complications of COVID-19 include: 
  • Increase physical activity
  • Aim for a healthy weight
  • Control blood sugar
  • Practice stress management
  • Monitor blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Live smoke-free
  • Eat a well-balanced nutritious diet
Leading a heart-healthy lifestyle is particularly important if you have traditional risk factors such as a family history of heart disease, stroke or high blood pressure, or less well-known risk factors, like autoimmune disease, prediabetes, or significant hormonal changes due to pregnancy or menopause.

It is critical to recognize and act on symptoms of a potential heart problem. Different people experience varying symptoms, and you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek medical advice. If you delay care, it can worsen your overall outcome. A recent Cleveland Clinic survey found that 52% of Americans experiencing heart symptoms have avoided seeking care during the pandemic, which can lead to serious health consequences. 

Cardiovascular disease symptoms may include: 
  • Chest pressure, instead of pain
  • The feeling of fullness, tightness, or a squeezing sensation in the jaw, shoulder, or upper arm
  • Shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, sweating, or nausea that is often worse with activity and relieved with rest
  • Discomfort anywhere in the upper part of the body may be a sign of a potentially very serious heart problem
The same Cleveland Clinic survey revealed that 65% of heart disease patients have put off health screenings or check-ups because of the pandemic. A cardiologist can decide the best course of diagnosis and treatment for your medical condition and customize care to individual needs for optimal results – whether through non-invasive techniques, surgical methods or a combination of both. 

During the ongoing pandemic, it also is critical to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as you are eligible. The vaccine is one of our best modes of protection against the virus. Expert advice and prevention are powerful allies. We are fortunate to have amazing cardiologists at St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular Institute who are all passionate about patient care and who are eager to help. For more information, visit stlukes-stl.com/hearthealth.

Joseph Craft III, MD, FACC, is board certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine. He is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology.