India has seen a massive number of its population recovering from Covid-19. As per the statistics shared by Union Health ministry, the total number of recovered cases stands at 62 lakhs as on October 13, 2020. With this, India’s recovery rate stands between 83- 85% However, it is imperative to note that a lot of recovered patients are experiencing cardiac issues, not just at the time of detection of infection, but even days to months after recovery. Interestingly, heart related symptoms are seen irrespective of the severity of the infection and irrespective of the age group of the Covid-19 patient.
Why does Covid-19 affect heart health?
COVID 19 has now been understood to be a disease that affects the walls of our blood vessels. Hence, patients with COVID 19 can present with heart attacks, strokes and clots in lungs/ limb vessels. These can be the first manifestation of the illness or occur during recovery. Fever or breathlessness may or may not accompany these complaints. The risk of these issues remains up to a few months in the recovery period.
Besides, COVID 19 can also directly affect the heart and cause weakening of the heart muscles which may give rise to heart failure or it can cause an abnormal heart rhythm. The most serious and unfortunate consequence of COVID 19 on heart can be cardiac arrest, which can, at times, be the first presentation of the illness. These issues may happen in the initial days of the infection or during the recovery period. The medical fraternity is also closely monitoring the long term consequences of the Covid-19 infection on the overall cardiac health.
The other significant indirect consequence of this pandemic is the high incidence of late presentations/ treatment of patients suffering from heart attacks and heart failure. Most of these late presentations/ treatment are because of fear of contracting the infection in hospitals or because of unavailability of adequate ICU beds as a result of increased patient load due to COVID 19. This has led to increased complications of underlying illnesses and sometimes even death.
Cardiac care post Covid-19 recovery:
The recovery time from Covid-19 infection depends on severity of the infection and the overall health of the individual and pre-existing diseases. Patients who had moderate to severe Covid-19 infection are at a higher risk and hence need special attention. However, lifestyle changes and keeping a watch on few symptoms can help to prevent further cardiac complications.
Patients who have suffered from COVID should be aware of symptoms of heart failure like:
- Swelling in body,
- Palpitations and
- Extreme tiredness
Palpitations can also be a sign of an abnormal heart rhythm and may need assessment, especially if accompanied with blackouts or giddiness.
If the above symptoms occur as a new complaint during recovery or continue for a longer period of time, one should not ignore them and should bring it to the attention of their doctors who can evaluate them accordingly. Depending on their complaints, the Cardiologist may advise ECG, blood tests and a 2D Echocardiogram, besides other tests. These patients may need treatment with special blood thinners or the medications used in heart failure as per their investigations and complaints.
Apart from these, it is important to ensure good heart health, especially during recovery period. One should also follow rules of healthy living, quit smoking, avoid sitting at one place for a long time and should continue medications if needed as per their doctor’s advice.
It is also imperative to realise that heart related complaints like chest pain and breathlessness can be an indicator of life threatening conditions. Hence, despite the ongoing pandemic, there should be no delay in asking for medical attention for these complaints.
Thus let us stay alert, informed and safe, so that we can protect ourselves, not just from COVID 19, but also its unnecessary fears.