The American Heart Association reports heart disease remains the number one cause of death worldwide. Experts predict COVID-19 will affect cardiovascular health and death rates over the coming years.
Dr. Salim Virani, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, says one reason is the coronavirus can damage the heart. According to Dr. Virani, “From March to June, the overall number of deaths related to cardiovascular disease in the U.S. went up. And that was probably because patients were deferring care out of fear of going to the hospital.”
Lifestyles have also changed during the pandemic, which could increase risk factors like diabetes and hypertension. “Overall physical activity has gone down, diet has worsened. We know that substance abuse has increased. And then the toll that it has taken on mental health,” says Dr. Virani.
69-year-old Ron Thomas stays active but says it’s been difficult since he had COVID-19 last summer. He spent 12 days in the hospital. “Recovered, you know, pretty well, you know, I thought. Went home, you know, got off oxygen pretty quick, and then that's when the AFib began. And I was back and forth to the hospital five or six times,” he says.
AFib or atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots and stroke, a complication from Thomas’s COVID-19 battle. “I've never had to really manage any health issues. I went into it in really good shape for my age, I think, but you know, and sort of came out a little bit decimated,” he says.
Ron takes medication but says it affects his energy level. “You really have to push yourself. And I keep doing that,” he says. He wants to keep being active to be healthy.
Experts say working on risk factors like physical activity and diet not only reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, but also cancer, which is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association.