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The COVID-19 pandemic is at the top of everyone’s mind — and it’s particularly important for people with health conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure (and their loved ones) to keep up to date on how to stay safe.

Read on for guidance and ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

Here’s what you need to know

People with heart disease have a higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

In general, people with heart disease are more likely to experience symptoms and complications when infected with a virus, including the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. People who have heart disease do not have a higher chance of contracting the virus — but they may have worse outcomes.

Why?

Because all viruses take a toll on the cardiovascular system. Many can cause arrhythmia and even heart attack. This is because the virus causes a severe inflammatory response in the body, and inflammation is the biggest cause of heart attacks. So it’s important for people with heart disease and their caregivers to lower their risk of contracting COVID-19.

If you have heart disease and you have concerns, talk with your healthcare provider who understands your current health status and medical history to best assess your risks related to COVID-19.

Keep taking your medications.

There have been questions about whether people with heart disease should continue taking their ACE-i and ARB medications. Our team of cardiologists is monitoring this closely and following guidelines set forth by the American College of Cardiology (ACC). The ACC recommends continuing to use angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) or angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) medications for anyone who already has them prescribed for conditions such as heart failure, hypertension or ischemic heart disease. 

All people with heart disease who are diagnosed with COVID-19 should be fully evaluated by their physician before adding or removing any medications, especially chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil). 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers specific recommendations for people at risk for serious illness, including COVID-19.

What are coronaviruses and COVID-19? 

Coronaviruses are a large family of diverse, common viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from a common cold to a severe lower respiratory tract infection, like pneumonia. COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that usually includes not only an upper respiratory tract infection, but also a lower respiratory tract infection, which can lead to pneumonia and breathing issues. 

How is COVID-19 spread?

Viruses that cause respiratory illnesses, like flu, cold or COVID-19, all spread in these ways:

  • Inhaling droplets in the air from someone’s cough or sneeze
  • Having close personal contact, such as hugging or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it

Symptoms of a COVID-19 infection can resemble that of a cold or flu and typically include a fever, shortness of breath and cough.

Symptoms range from mild to severe and can appear as early as 2 days and as late as 14 days after exposure. The expanded list of symptoms now includes:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • New loss of taste of smell
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle pain

This isn’t a complete list, but the most common symptoms of COVID. Of course, these are also symptoms of other illnesses, so if you have any of them, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have COVID-19.

If you feel like you’re developing symptoms, call your doctor.

If you’re having symptoms you think may be related to COVID-19, before you visit a doctor’s office, clinic or emergency room, use our self-screening tool, call your doctor or our hotline at 570-284-3657 for care guidance or to talk with a nurse.

Watch for emergency warning signs.

Seek immediate medical attention if you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, including:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Bluish lips or skin 
  • Sudden confusion or inability to arouse

In an emergency, call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room. 

What if a family member develops symptoms?

Take the following precautions if a family member shows symptoms of flu or COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often, and make sure your family member does the same.
  • Keep surfaces in your house clean.
  • Maintain a safe distance, if possible, by staying apart if you live in the same home 
    o Sleep in different rooms.
    o Don’t eat at the same table.
    o Don’t share utensils.

Have a candid discussion with your family about the risks if someone becomes infected. Emphasize how important it is to maintain a safe distance and keep the house sanitized. 

Should I keep regularly scheduled follow-up appointments?

It’s safe to visit your doctor’s office for routine follow-up care, as long as you’re feeling well and not having any symptoms of illness. But if you’d prefer, you have the option of telemedicine for many types of visits. Connecting with your doctor online or on the phone is convenient — you don’t have to travel, park or wait in a waiting room for your care. And telemedicine is great for social distancing, as it limits your risk of unnecessary exposure to other people. Want to know more? Visit geisinger.org/telemedicine

If you have mild symptoms of fever, runny nose and cough, stay home to keep others safe, just like you would if you had a cold.

If you have any doubts or questions about visiting a healthcare site, call your provider or send them a message in myGeisinger before your appointment.

Can my caregiver/family member come with me to an appointment?

Visitation policies are subject to change. For the latest information, check our temporary visitor policy. 

How you can protect yourself

Just like with the flu, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is through common-sense prevention measures:

Practice social distancing. Don’t shake hands, avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet away from others. 

  • Wash your hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing or visiting public areas. Hand sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol are also good options.
  • Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
  • Keep surfaces clean and disinfected at your home, workplace and school.

Take extra care to avoid crowded and closed public spaces, such as public transportation, theaters and restaurants. Limit travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly updates travel recommendations during the pandemic. Visit the CDC website to get the most up-to-date information.

This doesn’t mean you’re housebound, though. You can take walks outside and go grocery shopping (at off-peak hours, if possible). Just make sure to wipe down cart handles and wash your hands afterward.

But if you’re feeling sick or showing signs of illness, be very cautious about going into public spaces and stay home from work or school.

For the latest information, including more detailed responses to some common questions, visit the following websites:

Telemedicine video visits

See your doctor from the comfort of home — from routine care to specialty care
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COVID-19 updates: Visit Geisinger's Coronavirus Resource Center for the latest information and helpful resources.