Margaret T. Bowers, DNP, FNP-BC, AACC, FAANP, FAAN
Director, Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA); Associate Professor, Lead Faculty Cardiovascular Specialty, Duke University School of Nursing
Denying symptoms and delaying care due to fear of COVID-19 infection was a common finding in the early phase of the pandemic. Many cardiovascular conditions, such as heart attack, heart failure, and stroke require urgent attention, and delaying care can result in complications or even death. These complications may also be attributed to cancellation of an elective procedure for a cardiac diagnosis during times when COVID-19 rates escalated.
Older adults who stay at home are vulnerable to their underlying cardiovascular conditions worsening and, as a result, subsequent cardiac emergencies. Several studies have shown that older adults with diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated body mass index, and cardiovascular disease are at risk for severe infection with COVID-19.
This is one reason why in the early phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, people over age 65 have been targeted. Some of the cardiovascular consequences of a COVID-19 infection include blood clots (deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism), ischemic stroke, and acute coronary syndromes (i.e., a heart attack).
Lowering your risk
What can you do to mitigate your risk while addressing your cardiovascular health? Ask about options for virtual visits, including telephone or televideo visits. Televideo visits provide an option to stay at home while connecting with a cardiology provider. Although there is no physical examination, your provider can ascertain significant information from a visual inspection.
You can supplement the visit by using devices you may have on hand to monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, weight, and blood sugar. Share the data you collect at home and any cardiovascular symptoms you’re experiencing with your healthcare provider by phone, video, or secure messaging systems.
Staying motivated to follow a heart-healthy diet can be challenging when meal delivery options are convenient. Focus on choosing meals that are within your dietary requirements, with a focus on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. Despite limitations on exercise facilities, explore options for maintaining an active lifestyle in and around your home. Walking outside, and in-home activities like yoga and stretching, even if seated in a chair, are beneficial from a cardiovascular perspective.
Focusing on your heart health during and after the pandemic includes recognizing signs and symptoms that need prompt attention and immediate care. If you feel unwell, contact your healthcare provider to address your symptoms and get directed to an appropriate healthcare setting for further evaluation. Get a vaccine when available and remember the three Ws: wear a mask, wash your hands, and wait a distance of 6 feet from other people.