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Coronavirus outbreak: Heart patients need to be extra cautious of COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Prathap Kumar     May 17, 2020

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is on a global scale and its rapid spread into India has shattered conventional myths about the disease's resistance capacities in the human body's immune system. Though the deadly virus has infected perfectly healthy individuals in increasing numbers, those with a known clinical history of lung and heart disease are at greater risk of contracting it and testing positive for it.

COVID-19 is widely known to be transmitted through the respiratory system in human beings. People affected by the virus often complain of symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The virus typically manifests itself with flu-like symptoms in the upper respiratory tract comprising the nose and throat and complications like cough and breathing difficulties in the lower respiratory tract comprising air passage and lungs. When it reaches a critical stage, it can result in pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), or multiple organ failure in several cases ultimately leading to a person's death.

To date, it was believed that only people with underlying case histories of lung disease were susceptible to COVID-19. However, it has been proven that coronavirus can have a debilitating impact on the body of any person with lower immunity and adversely affect his/her heart condition.

Though known to primarily affect the respiratory system (particularly lungs) of an infected person, medical professionals the world over have observed that patients who test positive for COVID-19 tend to develop heart-related complications.

The virus is known to adversely affect the working of heart muscles, often leading to cardiac arrest. Those suffering from heart ailments need to note here that with a considerable slowing down of the functions of respiratory organs, the workload of the heart increases substantially.

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Low immunity levels among people suffering from cardiac ailments place them in a high-risk category and being infected with COVID-19 can prove critical for them.

Under normal circumstances, it cannot be stated that feeling physically exhausted and having breathing disorders are clear symptoms of COVID-19. However, when such symptoms are observed, one should not remain lax and should consult a physician.

Similarly, when one feels tired after engaging in normal work of doing a little physical exercise, it makes prudent sense to consult a doctor. Taking medical guidance on a regular basis is also advisable for people who work out on a daily basis.

Under the current circumstances, there is absolutely no need for people to alter their regular exercise schedules. It is advisable for those who work out every day to continue with their daily workout routine.

However, it would make sense for them to maintain prescribed social distancing norms while doing their daily set of exercises to ensure that they are not infected and the spread of the virus is contained.

More than the actual virus itself, it is the morbid fear of contracting the virus that plays havoc with the psyche of patients suffering from cardiac ailments.

It can take a heavy emotional toll on people with a history of cardiac ailments. The resultant stress or hypertension can play a triggering role in heightening the risk of cardiac arrest among heart patients.

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Rather than brood over the potential after-effects of Covid-19, cardiac patients should live a physically active life. This will not only help them release stress and relieve disease-induced anxiety but also help in forming a positive mindset to constructively cope with the crisis and uncertainties generated by the virus.

Cardiac patients also need to develop mental strength and resilience is the key to tackling the impact of the virus in an effective manner.

COVID-19 patients in the older age bracket are at a greater risk of fatality compared to younger patients who have tested positive for the virus. While the average incidence of death among the younger generation of patients is 2.5% on account of COVID-19, the death rate among older patients is higher at above 5%.

For patients aged 70 years, the death rate is 8% and above, and for patients above the age of 80 years, the fatality rate is 80% and above. Compared to these, the death rate for patients afflicted with cardiac ailments is pegged at 10.5%.

For a normal healthy person or a person having cardiac problems, sleep plays a key role in leading a healthy life. Hence, it is advisable that one should get an adequate amount of sleep without any room for compromise.

It needs to be noted here that a feeling of listlessness or indecisiveness (ennui) caused by a lack of sleep cannot be misconstrued as symptoms of COVID-19 pandemic.

Not having the requisite amount of sleep can only lead to anxieties and tensions which are unnecessary and avoidable. Patients with a history of cardiac problems should ensure that they get enough sleep.

They should also strictly follow the directives issued by the health department to prevent the community spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Cardiac patients also need to understand that with low immunity levels, they are at a greater risk of contracting the virus and hence should totally avoid socialising and social occasions like family get-togethers.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence to prove that consuming a certain category of food or fruits will boost one's immune power against coronavirus.

However, it does not make any rational sense to alter one's dietary habits on the basis of vague recommendations and suggestions from unscrupulous sources.

However, before making any changes to one's daily food habits, it would be advisable to consult a physician for proper guidance. Heart patients are advised to follow their diet strictly.

(The author is Chairman & Managing Director and the Chief Interventional Cardiologist of Meditrina Group of Hospitals)

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