Women, heart health & the pandemic
“There is no way I had a heart attack! I didn’t have symptoms.”
“I’ll make a doctor’s appointment in the summer when the kids are out of school.”
“I don’t need a check-up. I feel fine.”
We’ve heard these comments and more from women we see in our hospital campuses and in our offices.
So many things about life can affect our hearts.
My colleagues and I have seen this among those who live in, work in and visit Hammonton and throughout the broader region we serve for years.
This is especially true among women, who often have unique risk factors for, and symptoms of heart disease and heart attack.
One of those “things” that we know has impacted women’s heart health is the pandemic.
Recent studies confirm what we are seeing in the office.
Some studies have shown that those who have heart disease are more at risk of contracting COVID-19.
They’ve also shown that COVID-19 has been a heart breaker that has unsuspectingly gripped the hearts of those who, prior to having the virus, had no known heart issues.
Our Heart and Vascular Institute team is finding that in some cases, women in particular who have had COVID-19, including those who had only mild symptoms, are now facing new heart issues.
These include high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, heart attack and other life-limiting and potentially fatal heart issues.
Some women with no known heart health risk factors have suffered heart attacks. What is very unusual, is that some of these women did not have a heart blockage. The commonality they share is that they have had COVID-19.
Whether women have had COVID-19 or not, the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic have also hurt their hearts in other ways.
Stress contributes to heart disease, heart attack and so many other illnesses that impact the heart. Women have shared with us that they lose sleep over whether they might lose their homes, worries about their children navigating school and how to handle difficult conversations about precautions. Even though we are getting back to more of a pre-pandemic lifestyle, we all face new and continued stressors.
Women should always see their primary care provider—and if they have one, their cardiologist—regularly. If they’ve had COVID-19, they should tell their provider and ask what additional screenings or care they might need.
Of course, we are seeing many of the same pandemic-related heart health trends among all of our patients.
Taking the following steps can help protect you from COVID-19 and COVID-19-related heart and other health issues.
• Make sure you your family are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
• Continue to take other precautions against COVID-19 and other infections, including by washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home and away from others when you are sick.
• Get regular exercise. Spring weather and longer daylight hours make it even easier to enjoy the outdoors in Hammonton. Moving your body is good for your heart and your overall physical and mental wellbeing. It’s a great for managing stress.
• Eat a heart-healthy diet.
• Make and keep routine primary and specialty care visits. Share your family and personal history with these providers. These medical professionals can help you to prevent and manage chronic conditions.
• If something doesn’t feel right, call your primary care provider, cardiologist or other specialist. If you have had COVID-19, make sure you alert your healthcare providers and report any changes in your health or new symptoms to them immediately.
• Dial 911 immediately for symptoms of a heart attack.
Remember, you can best care for those you love and live your best life when you take care of your own heart first.
Sanjay Shetty, M.D. is the Chief Medical Officer of the Heart and Vascular Institute at AtlantiCare.