COVID-19 & Cardiovascular Disease: What You Need to Know

Many type 1 diabetics live with cardiovascular disease, putting them at greater COVID-19 risk. Here is how to stay safe during the pandemic

Despite initial reports that people living with diabetes may be at higher risk for infection by the novel coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) and have a higher mortality rate from COVID-19, more recent stats indicate that type 1 diabetics may not be at such a high risk.

This newer data appears to be true in cases of people with well-controlled T1D. 

However, type 1 diabetics are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to the general population. And statistics continue to show a high correlation between CVD and severe COVID-19 infection.

If you are a person living with type 1 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it is important to understand how much your risk is increased, how your heart medications might complicate that risk, and what steps you should be taking to protect yourself.

Are People with CVD at Greater Risk for COVID-19?

Current data from the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that patients over the age of 65 with underlying vascular conditions are not only more likely to be infected with the novel coronavirus but are much more likely to suffer from severe or even fatal COVID-19 symptoms.

The elderly aren’t the only cohort that appears to be at an increased risk.

Patients with preexisting myocardial injury appear to be at the highest risk of severe illness and death associated with COVID-19. But patients suffering from hypertension, previous stroke, and certain respiratory illnesses are also at increased risk of long-term hospitalization and death.

No Direct T1D Link

While type 2 diabetes and obesity may also increase a person’s risk factors, there is no direct link between well-controlled type 1 diabetes and increased COVID-19 risk. However, given the high incidence of heart disease, especially among women with type 1, all T1Ds should be aware of the connections between CVD and coronavirus.

Do Heart Meds Increase Your COVID-19 Risk?

The connection between cardiovascular disease and increased COVID-19 risk is thought to relate largely to the decreased cardiac and respiratory function seen in these individuals. However, there is some additional concern that common heart medications taken by these patients may be at least partially responsible for some of this increased risk. 

Both ACE inhibitors, often prescribed for patients suffering from heart disease, and angiotensin receptor blockers, including “statin” medications, used to treat high blood pressure, upregulate the expression of the same receptor type that SARS-Cov-2 uses to enter human respiratory cells.

There is reason to believe that these medications may increase infection risk by providing more infection points for the virus.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, the full effect of these medications isn’t completely clear. Furthermore, there is some evidence that these meds may actually play a part in reducing lung, heart, and renal damage associated with COVID-19.

Until we know more about the interactions between these drugs and the virus, the AHA and researchers recommend continuing to take your heart and blood pressure medications as prescribed. But do report the use of any of these meds to your doctor right away if you develop symptoms of COVID-19.

Protect Yourself from Coronavirus as High-Risk Person

Whether you are at an increased risk of developing COVID-19 due to cardiovascular disease or poorly controlled diabetes, here are some steps you should take to protect yourself from exposure.

Stay Home

If you want to reduce your odds of getting sick to near zero, you have to stay away from other people and areas where other people visit. The simplest way to do this is to stay home.

Of course, that practice is easier said than done, especially for certain individuals. Still, there are alternatives to many errands and other out of the house activities you should absolutely be utilizing if you are high risk.

Choose grocery delivery, telehealthcare appointments, and mail order medications whenever possible. If there are other essential items you need, try ordering them online or having a friend pick them up for you. 

If you do need to go out in public, make sure to wash your hands before you leave and as soon as you return. Keep a minimum distance of six feet between you and others and consider wearing a facemask to protect those around you.

If you do not live alone and others must leave the house, or you have to leave for work, make a habit of disinfecting high-traffic and high-touch areas throughout the day.

Limit Visitors

Ideally, you should not have anyone visit you during this time. If you do have someone come over, try to avoid having them enter the house and make sure to keep a safe distance while outside. You should also ask any visitors to wear a mask to protect you in case they are sick and don’t know it.

If a visitor does need to enter the house, remember to keep your distance. Once they leave, make sure to disinfect any areas that they touched, including doorknobs and countertops.

If someone brings your groceries, be cautious about touching bag handles and food containers. While the chance of the virus spreading this way is low, it doesn’t hurt to be overly cautious. You can wipe down food containers with disinfecting wipes or simply set them aside for three days. After this period it is very unlikely any virus would be viable.

Practice Good Hygiene

If you live by yourself and are not leaving the home often, then your risk of coming into contact with the virus is very low. Still, it is a great idea to practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face. If you live with others or do have to leave the home frequently, good hygiene is a must.

Make sure to wash for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water before eating, upon returning to the home, after sneezing or coughing, and after leaving any public place.

While all these rules are especially important to follow if you are at high risk of coronavirus infection due to cardiovascular disease or poorly controlled diabetes, they are actually good for all of us to keep in mind.

The more of us who abide by stay-at-home policies, limit our interactions with others, and practice good hygiene, the lower the risk of infection to those who are high-risk will be.

Sara Seitz is a freelance writer specializing in blog, article, and content writing. She has had type 1 diabetes for ten years but has never let it stop her from living the life she wants. Lately, she has been busy figuring out how to manage her diabetes while raising a spirited toddler. Sara enjoys traveling, hiking and experimenting with food as a means to better health. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter and their pack of various pets.

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