What coronavirus means for you if you have heart disease

Here's what you need to know to protect yourself. Source: Getty.

Tracking the incidence of Covid-19 globally, it’s understood older people, particularly those over the age of 70, are most vulnerable to serious infection. Similarly, those over the age of 60 with a pre-existing chronic condition, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) or diabetes, are also considered at greater risk to serious infection and complications.

In fact, there’s a high prevalence of CVD in those dying from Covid-19 in Italy and China, two of the worst affected countries initially. One-third of Italian and one-in-10 Chinese patients who died from Covid-19 had pre-existing heart disease, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) or atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).

So, what’s the link?

While the Covid-19 virus itself doesn’t directly affect the heart, it can cause problems with breathing and breathlessness, which can place significant stress on the heart. Individuals with CVD seem to be at higher risk of serious Covid-19 infection, particularly those over the age of 60, which is why we have seen deaths related to cardiac complications in some people infected with the virus. This is particularly concerning, given the high rate of CVD in Australia.

The picture of cardiovascular disease in Australia:

• One in six Australians are affected by CVD, accounting for more than four million Australians
• 52 per cent of Australians aged 65 and over are living with CVD
• The prevalence of CVD increases with age, with 35 per cent of Australians aged 55 to 64 living with a long-term CVD condition, rising to 66 percent of Australians aged 75 years and over
• The rates of CVD and CVD-related hospitalisation and death are higher among lower socioeconomic groups, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and those living in regional and remote areas of Australia
• Approximately six million Australians are currently living with hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Approximately 500,000 Australians have an existing atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).

However, we want to alert Australians, not alarm them. By informing Australians over 60 to the possible risk-factors, we are hoping to help safeguard them against this devastating virus.

Advice for Australians 60-plus with CVD

Speak to your healthcare professional and update your CVD health plan

With strict social distancing measures in place utilise the newly announced online and telehealth services available. Telehealth is the use of videoconferencing (live video on computer) for an appointment with a doctor that is in a different location to the patient.
At GenesisCare clinics across Australia, we are utilising videoconferencing to allow our patients to discuss and share health information and images confidentially, without the need to travel to a clinic, reducing the risk of contact during Covid-19.

Speak to your local regular pharmacist about your medication

New temporary measures are in place to improve access to medicines during social distancing and isolation. Under strict conditions, pharmacists will be able to give patients up to one month’s supply of their usual medicine without a script, at the usual PBS consumer co-payment.

The patient must previously have been prescribed the medicine and the pharmacist must be satisfied it is urgently needed. A home delivery service for PBS medicines is now also in place. For more information about accessing prescription medications, visit the Department of Health website.

Make sure your routine vaccines are up to date, especially as flu season approaches

While there is currently no vaccine for Covid-19, there is one for the flu. Getting the flu and Covid-19 at the same time can make you very ill. You should get your 2020 flu shot now from your GP or pharmacist. Also discuss with your GP whether you should have a pneumococcal vaccination against pneumonia, which is recommended for everyone over 65, and/or a shingles vaccination.

Ensure you and your family practice good hygiene

Washing your hands often with soap and water for 20 to 30 seconds. Using a tissue and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your face and mouth.

Following the social distancing rules as detailed by the department of health

Stay home unless you’re an essential worker, shopping for food, exercising in a public space such as a park (max. 2 people), you have a medical appointment or are visiting a pharmacy or if you’re providing care to another person outside your home.

If you must go out, remember to keep 1.5 metres away from others, avoid physical greetings such as handshaking, hugs and kisses, use tap and go instead of cash and travel at quiet times and avoid crowds.

Should you have any questions about CVD during COVID-19, contact your healthcare professional or call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

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