COVID-19 restrictions are easing. What does that mean for heart failure patients?
Although the coronavirus is still a major health threat, restrictions are easing across the nation. That leaves many people— including heart failure patients — wondering if it’s safe to go out in public and get back to a normal routine.
The most important thing to remember is that people with heart disease, including heart failure, are at risk of getting much sicker or even dying if they get COVID-19. So if you have a history of heart disease or have a risk factor for heart disease or stroke, stay informed and stay cautious.
Thinking about going out? Make sure you know the coronavirus infection rate in your area, assess your personal risk and don’t hesitate to seek expert medical advice. Start with this list to help you get started — carefully:
Make a catch-up appointment with your primary care doctor or cardiologist, especially if there are changes in your health status. Your doctor may offer video, phone or in-person visits. Be ready to discuss updates including weight or diet changes, sleep issues and any illness, including depression. They’ll want to know how home monitoring of chronic conditions is going.
Track your symptoms with a self-management app. If you have heart failure, one of the most important things you can do is to manage your symptoms and report changes to your health care team. The team can monitor your symptoms (possibly by telemedicine) before you require a visit to the hospital.
The American Heart Association HF Path™ is a self-management tool that lets you track your symptoms for free. Download it on your smart device. The app includes patient education and resources on how to best manage your (or a loved one’s) HF.
Maintain daily to-dos. Each day, you should aim to get plenty of physical activity, follow a heart-healthy diet and take any medications as prescribed. In addition, follow this short checklist:
- Weigh yourself. Report increases of two to three pounds or more to your health care team.
- Keep an eye on swelling in your legs.
- Monitor shortness of breath and chest pain.
- Determine if you can do the same level of physical activity you did the day before.
- Figure out if you got restful sleep.
Reschedule missed procedures or screenings. Work with your health care team to reschedule priority procedures and screenings. If it’s an in-person visit, social distancing, masks and good hand hygiene remain critical for reducing the chance of infection. Many doctors’ offices require patients to wear a mask and to have their temperature taken once they arrive.
Take care of your lungs. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, so keeping your lungs healthy should be high on your to-do list. Don’t smoke or vape. If you do, find resources to help you quit.
Make a plan for future medical care. Any health care checklist can include discussions with family about future health decisions in the case of serious illness, with the goal of recording those wishes in advance health care directives. The AARP and the AHA provide resources to help.
Get support. It’s normal to feel scared, overwhelmed or confused when managing your heart failure — especially during a pandemic. Connect with survivors and caregivers through the American Heart Association’s free online Support Network. Sometimes it’s easier to cope when you know you’re not alone.