There’s arguably nothing the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected — and that includes heart health and the concerns Americans have for their ticker.
A February 2021 survey by the Cleveland Clinic, conducted for American Heart Month, reveals some of those specifics. Here’s a glance at the findings and some context to illustrate the importance of heart health during the current health crisis and in general.
1. Heart health-related stresses are high
The survey found that 75 percent of Americans — and 81 percent of heart disease patients — are now more concerned about their heart health because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eighty-one percent and 87 percent of respondents, respectively, reported worry about the heart effects of participating in an in-person group physical activity during the pandemic.
Having heart disease is a risk factor for severe COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That said, 61 percent of Americans don’t know that, and 69 percent of them are unaware that hypertension also increases the risk for serious illness, the Cleveland Clinic survey revealed.
A fear of group fitness activities has the potential to hinder heart health, as physical activity is a known benefit for people managing heart disease or looking to prevent it. At the same time, public health experts recommend avoiding large group gatherings, but small gatherings may be appropriate depending on the nature of the event and the people involved.
2. Stress levels overall have risen
Stress, especially the chronic type, is harmful to the heart, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been no shortage of it. The Cleveland Clinic survey revealed 76 percent of Americans reported feeling more stressed during the pandemic, though only 55 percent are aware that stress can have a substantial effect on heart health. Common fears concerned friends or family developing COVID-19, that patients themselves would get the disease, and worry about financial security.
3. Heart health is worsening
As mentioned, heart disease is a risk factor for severe COVID-19. The risk factors for heart disease and the complications of the disease have become more prevalent during the pandemic, the Cleveland Clinic survey found. Overall, 32 percent of Americans and 53 percent of heart disease patients have experienced concerning health issues since the beginning of the pandemic. These include high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
4. Misinformation abounds
In addition to a lack of awareness about the relationship between heart health and COVID-19 severity, 25 percent of survey respondents incorrectly believe COVID-19 only affects your lungs, not the heart. At the same time, 20 percent incorrectly believe ACE inhibitors limit a person’s chances of developing COVID-19. Patients can consult their healthcare team for credible information about COVID-19 risks.
5. People are skipping health screenings, including for their heart
Only 52 percent of Americans and 63 percent of heart disease patients experiencing health issues contacted a doctor or sought medical care for assistance. Health experts agree that prompt treatment for heart problems is crucial for avoiding complications and potential death. For example, the longer someone delays treatment following heart attack, the more damage the heart muscle experiences.
Eighty-five percent of Americans report being concerned about exposure to the novel coronavirus in a doctor’s office or a hospital, and 34 percent of people with heart disease have delayed taking heart medications during the pandemic.
Overall, 52 percent of Americans and 65 percent of heart disease patients have put off health check-ups since the current health crisis began. Those include blood pressure and cholesterol checks, dental screenings, testing for pre-existing conditions, and annual physicals.
These screenings are crucial to keep health on track, health experts agree.
6. Diet and lifestyle habits have changed
The survey found that 42 percent of Americans have gained weight and 47 percent of heart disease patients have gained weight during the pandemic, a positive finding is that many people also developed healthy habits. For example, 32 percent of survey respondents reported exercising more and 30 percent reported following a healthy diet.