By Lisa Larkin, MD, FACP, NCMP, IF
Founder and CEO, Ms.Medicine
As the leading cause of death for women in the US, heart disease is no longer considered a “man’s disease.” And, with heart disease patients at greater risk for serious infection from COVID-19, now more than ever, women with heart disease should take extra precautions to stay healthy. Here are x tips for women with heart disease to consider during the pandemic – and as our states and communities begin to open up – to ensure they stay healthy.
Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Maintain social distancing. Exercise regularly. Eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of sleep. The same advice we hear for all people applies to women with cardiovascular disease; but women with CVD need to ensure they stick to these health guidelines now more than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several serious heart conditions, including heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies and pulmonary hypertension that put patients at an increased risk for serious illness from COVID-19. Other conditions, such as hypertension or stroke, may also increase risk of serious infection. Prevention measures are crucial.
Stay on Track
Avoiding contracting COVID-19 is critical, but so is maintaining your heart treatment plan. Stay in touch with your healthcare provider; if you had a doctor’s appointment planned, see if your provider thinks a telehealth visit is appropriate. Be sure you stick to your prescription medications as directed by your doctor, and make sure you have at least a one-month supply of your medications on hand (some insurance providers allow for up to 90 days of medications to be dispensed, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, so check with your pharmacist or health insurance provider.) If possible, have the pharmacy deliver your medications or ask a family member, friend or neighbor to pick them up for you to limit your exposure.
Stick to Your Routine
When stay-in-place orders started, many Americans began stocking their pantries with non-perishable food that could last, including lots of “comfort” foods, like snacks and sweets. For women with CVD who are taking extra precautions to stay safe, making regular trips to the grocery store for fresh produce can be difficult. Be sure to see if your local grocery offers a delivery service or check with a neighbor who might be able to help to make sure you stick with your heart-healthy diet.
If your exercise routine required a visit to the gym before COVID-19, you’ve likely had to make adjustments to working out and staying active at home. Talk with your doctor or trainer about modifying your gym routine for home, including taking online classes, replacing weights with everyday objects and finding ways to safely exercise away from others.
Don’t “Die of Doubt”
Over the last several months, many hospitals saw dramatic declines in the number of patients seeking treatment for heart-related conditions, including heart attacks and stroke. This has been attributed to peoples’ fear of the ER—and anxiety about contracting COVID-19 while at the hospital. The American Heart Association reminds Americans that the hospital is still the safest place for anyone who is experiencing symptoms of heart attack or stroke. Now more than ever, hospitals are following infection controls and social distancing to keep infected people away from those with other conditions. And, like many emergencies, time is critical. Don’t hesitate to call 911 if you think you are having a heart emergency. Check with your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your medications, treatment plans or symptoms.