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How COVID-19 affects your heart

Two red face masks overlap in the shape of a heart.

Heart disease is still the No. 1 cause of death in the world. And COVID-19 is likely to help keep it in that top spot for a while.

What does COVID-19 have to do with heart health? A lot, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

First, studies suggest that the virus may directly damage the heart. Even people not sick enough to be hospitalized are sometimes coming away with heart damage, according to the AHA.

Second, some people with heart disease are avoiding coming into the hospital for fear of catching the virus—even if they suspect they're having a heart attack. That can lead to unnecessary deaths or greater heart damage by the time they get treatment.

And finally, many people are coping with the stress and isolation of the pandemic with unhealthy habits, such as:

  • Drinking more alcohol.
  • Eating junk foods.
  • Not exercising.

That can have an impact on your long-term heart health too.

Show your heart some love

Heart experts urge anyone recovering from COVID-19 to call their doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • Increasing shortness of breath with activity.
  • Chest pain.
  • Ankle swelling.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Shortness of breath even when lying flat.
  • Waking up at night short of breath.
  • Light-headedness or dizziness.

And for the rest of us, now is a good time to recommit to heart-healthy habits like these:

Lower your stress levels. When you're feeling the pressure of the pandemic, practice healthy coping techniques, like deep breathing, stretching or doing a hobby you enjoy. And stay connected with loved ones, even from a distance.

Eat heart-healthy foods. Choose a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups, especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Try to limit sweet, salty and highly processed foods.

Get some exercise. Physical activity isn't just good for your heart. It can reduce feelings of fatigue and anxiety too.

Protect yourself from COVID-19. Get a vaccine as soon as you can. And in the meantime, follow advice to lower the risk of catching or spreading the virus. Wear a mask when out in public. Stay at least 6 feet away from others not in your household. And avoid crowds.

Learn about other ways you can protect your heart by visiting our Heart Health topic center.

Reviewed 3/20/2021

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