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COVID-19 and Your Heart

The Smidt Heart Institute Remains a Resource to Heart Disease Patients During Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

Sam Torbati, MD, has a message for anyone experiencing symptoms of heart disease in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic:"Either call your doctor or come to the Emergency Department. Don't take chances with heart disease."

The number of patients treated at Cedars-Sinai's Ruth and Harry Roman Emergency Department has declined by 30% during the pandemic., said Torbati, co-director of the Emergency Department. And while he's glad for the dip in patients from car accidents, Torbati is worried that patients might fear getting medical treatment would expose them to COVID-19. 

“We are very concerned that fears over COVID-19 is resulting in harm," Torbati said. "If you’re having chest pain, trouble breathing, feel faint, have new weakness or trouble with speech or any severe unexplained pain, you should call 911 as in the past. “

Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center in the Smidt Heart Institute, said men and women often have different symptoms of a heart attack. Women can experience tightness in their jaw and debilitating fatigue. Typical men's symptoms can include tingling in their left arm. If you think you are having a heart attack, head to the Emergency Department, Bairey Merz said.

“Cedars-Sinai, including our urgent care locations and Emergency Department, is a safe place and available to treat all patients, not just those with coronavirus,” said Bairey Merz. “We have put in place effective measures to keep you safe and limit exposure, so please do not ignore life-threatening symptoms that could indicate a heart attack or other serious illness. Instead, call your doctor or seek care immediately.”

Heart health is key to effectively fighting COVID-19.

“Although patients with heart disease are not at higher risk of contracting novel coronavirus, those who do become infected are likely to become sicker than their non-immune compromised counterparts,” said Bairey Merz. “That’s because viruses like COVID-19 put further stress on an already fatigued heart.”

In fact, new research from the Smidt Heart Institute published in the journal Circulation Research suggests cardiac injury is prominent in roughly 20% to 30% of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and has contributed to roughly 40% of deaths.

“Those are troubling statistics for healthy individuals who contract novel coronavirus, but for patients with underlying heart conditions, it can be catastrophic,” said Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, executive director of the Smidt Heart Institute and lead author of the study published April 7. “With more research, we hope to better uncover the connection between the respiratory virus and the heart. In the interim, we need patients with heart disease to follow precautionary guidelines to avoid contraction.”

To decrease the risk of vulnerable heart disease patients becoming infected with COVID-19, Bairey Merz urges them to follow precautions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention like proper hand hygiene and staying at home.

However, Bairey Merz recognizes that sheltering in place may cause an array of challenges for individuals with heart disease, especially for the elderly and those who live alone. That’s why she and her team in the Smidt Heart Institute launched an initiative to better support this vulnerable patient population.

“For several weeks now, our team has been calling our patients to check in on their health and gain a better understanding of their living situation,” said Bairey Merz. “Based on their unique needs, we offer a variety of resources to ensure our patients have the medications they need, food in their homes and access to financial services as needed.”

The medical team at the Smidt Heart Institute is also coordinating video, telephone and telemedicine visits with all their outpatients to replace regular appointments and to ensure any health concerns are addressed–without patients having to make an unnecessary trip to the doctor’s office.

These telemedicine visits are especially critical to ensure patients continue taking their potentially life-saving medications for conditions like high blood pressure.

“Many of our patients are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than normal,” said Bairey Merz. “These are understandable emotions that we are committed to addressing. Our ultimate goal through these check-ins is to help patients feel more at ease during an already chaotic time and know they can trust and rely on their care team at Cedars-Sinai for a variety of needs.”

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Going to the Doctor During COVID-19: What You Need to Know