Does COVID trigger heart attacks? Top cardiologist has all your doubts cleared

Cardiologist Dr Naresh Trehan says the second wave is affecting even youngsters with no history of heart ailments

After a hectic day at the office, Dinesh Acharya,  just 25, took a shower,  had supper, and hit the bed by 11 pm. At 3 am, he woke up with breathing trouble and was rushed to a Mumbai hospital where he declared dead, leaving his family shocked.

There was more horror to unfurl as Acharya was tested COVID positive — everything happened in just a matter of hours and there were no signs or symptoms.

Also read: CDC acknowledges COVID-19 virus is airborne

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Acharaya’s is not an isolated case as several people, mostly young, across the country are succumbing to heart attacks and many of those are linked to COVID. Many heart patients too are falling prey to the virus amid total confusion and chaos surrounding the pandemic.

So is there a connection between the two? What are the precautions one needs to take? In an interview with Hindustan Times, eminent cardiologist Dr Naresh Trehan listed out warning signs and preventive steps that heart patients should look out for.

Youngsters need to be careful

“What are we seeing this time as opposed to the last time (the first wave) is that younger people are getting more affected than elders with a known history of heart ailment,” Dr Trehan told HT. So how does it attack young patients? The top Delhi-based cardiologist explained, “There are alarming instances where young patients suddenly develop pulmonary edema — fluid accumulation in the tissue and air spaces of the lungs, leading to impaired breathing and eventually respiratory failure. Almost 70% of them get acute myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), making their survival chances really thin.”

The deadly second, according to Trehan, is fatally affecting young people as low as 33 years old with no earlier signs of heart disease.

Heart patients, take note

At least 15-20% of patients are getting affected by the virus in their heart, the reputed cardiologist said. While patients with a history of heat-related illness or those who had stents installed in their hearts or have undergone a bypass surgery are found to be seeking medical help for enhanced symptoms after they contracted COVID, what is worrying is that in some cases patients with no pre-existing history of cardiac ailment reportedly got an attack. “Their heart function goes to 10-15%, exposing them to the severe risk of fatality”, the doctor said.

What can be done in the Golden Hour?

Dr Trehan said patients needed to be taken to hospital as quickly as possible. “In most cases, by the time when such patients are referred to a speciality hospital is too late. Only if they are taken to a hospital in time and put on ECMO support, they can be saved,” said the doctor.

Stress, anxiety big triggers

Dr. Trehan said stress and anxiety play an important role in triggering heart ailments for COVID patients.

“Severe anxiety makes the body’s adrenaline go up, thus spiking the blood pressure and in the process shooting up the heart rate. This can be deadly for a patient infected with the virus,” the doctor warned.

Also read: Daily COVID-19 deaths may go above 2,000 by June, says Lancet study

Remedies that can be done at home

“Follow a three-step process to get relief from anxiety. One, you must exercise to keep your immunity up; two, you must do de-stressing techniques daily no matter whether you are infected or not; and the third is to maintain a healthy nutrition by consuming at least 30-40 grams of protein every day,” the doctor told HT. He also advised people to try yoga or breathing exercises.

Watch out for warning signs

Every heart patient must look out for these signs. ‘Watch out for heaviness or shortness of breath and simultaneously check their oxygen saturation on a pulse oximeter. Never copy prescriptions of patients with similar symptoms,”  Dr Trehan warned.

Can heart patients take vaccines?

Dr Trehan said vaccines are safe for patients with heart ailments, but advised the people who take blood thinners to inform vaccinators about it. “Vaccinators are trained to administer doses in a specific manner on patients if they inform medical staff about blood thinners. The vaccinator will put constant pressure for three minutes or so on the site of the injection,” he said.

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