If you or someone you love has had a stroke or is living with a heart condition, the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may be especially worrying.
Dr. Cindy Yip, director of Data, Knowledge Management and Heart Program for Heart & Stroke, summarized the available information to answer these questions.
What do we know about the virus?
This virus is still very new. As researchers race to understand it, they are starting to build a picture of the impacts on our heart and brain health.
The data show that people who have a heart condition or vascular disease, or who have had a stroke, are at higher risk of complications if they are infected with COVID-19.
So it’s important to do everything you can to avoid infection.
Watch our webinar for expert advice on taking care of your health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can I protect myself from exposure to the virus?
Most important is following public health measures including physical distancing and frequent and thorough handwashing.
If you have heart or vascular disease or have had a stroke, these are factors to consider during physical distancing:
- Make sure you have a list of contacts – caregivers, healthcare providers, home care staff, as well as family members and friends who could help you.
- Ensure you have a supply of current prescriptions and check if your pharmacy provides home delivery. It’s a good idea to ensure someone in your family is familiar with your prescriptions and can refill them.
- In stocking up on non-perishable foods, give priority to heart-healthy choices. For example, if you have heart failure, it’s important to control the amount of salt you consume. Check labels to choose lower salt and no-salt-added options.
Should I keep taking all my medications?
Yes. You should continue to take all your medications as prescribed.
There are reports circulating that some heart medications may increase your risk of COVID-19. There is no scientific evidence to suggest this is true.
In fact, if you stop some of your medications you may feel worse from your health condition and require medical attention.
This advice applies to medications including ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme) and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers), commonly used drugs to treat both heart failure and high blood pressure.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns, or see the recommendations from these organizations:
Should I avoid going to medical appointments?
During this outbreak it’s wise to stay home as much as possible to minimize your risk of being exposed to the virus.
However, it’s important to seek medical care when you need it. This is critical If you are living with a heart condition or risk factor for stroke and experience any new or worsening symptoms. Examples of conditions include heart failure, sharply elevated high blood pressure, heart valve disease or heart rhythm issues.
The Canadian Cardiovascular Society is advising healthcare providers to suspend non-essential appointments and consult with their patients by phone or online conferencing where possible.
If you are experiencing symptoms or have any worries about your condition, contact your clinic or doctor’s office.
If an in-person appointment is necessary, follow your doctor’s directions to minimize the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Public health authorities are vigilantly monitoring the situation and providing advice to healthcare providers. So there should be measures in place at your doctor’s office to protect both patients and medical team members.
How do I measure my blood pressure at home?
If blood pressure is a concern for you, regular monitoring is important. But physical distancing means your healthcare team may not be able to check your blood pressure in person. Many blood pressure monitors in public places have been removed for safety reasons.
Measuring your blood pressure at home is an option.
To do so, you will need to buy a monitor. Consider the devices recommended by Hypertension Canada. A member of your healthcare team (a nurse, doctor or pharmacist) can help you choose a monitor and select a cuff size that is right for you.
When measuring your blood pressure at home, it’s important to use the same arm each time and carefully follow these steps to get reliable readings.
Should I attend my regular INR checks at the clinic?
That depends. If you are taking warfarin, a blood thinner, regular monitoring of your INR level is important. At the same time, your healthcare team wants to minimize your risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Before making any changes you need to discuss this with the physician or nurse who monitors your levels.
If your INR level has been relatively stable, they may advise that you can reduce the frequency of testing. In that case you should continue to carefully monitor your food intake and be extra aware of foods that impact INR levels.
If your INR is fairly unstable and requires frequent dosing adjustments, there may be home-care testing services in your area. Or you may need to keep to your regular schedule of clinic visits. Again, your healthcare provider is in the best position to advise you.
Home monitoring devices are available but not covered by most drug plans and can be quite costly.
What if I experience the signs of a stroke or heart attack or cardiac arrest?
Call 9-1-1 immediately if you experience or witness symptoms of a stroke, heart attack or cardiac arrest. Don’t be afraid to seek medical help.
What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?
Isolate yourself as quickly as possible and contact your healthcare provider or local public health authority or the COVID hotline in your province to find out where and how you can get assessed.
This information will help you assess your symptoms and connect to testing in your province.
Call ahead before going to any medical office or clinic.
The sooner you can get recommendations on how to alleviate your symptoms, the higher your chance of recovery.