In recent weeks, many people with heart and stroke emergencies have delayed seeking medical help or decided to just ‘sit it out’ and stay at home because of their fear of contracting COVID-19 in the hospital. This delay in taking action can and has resulted in worse outcomes, ranging from unnecessary loss of life to people being left with disability, chronic heart conditions and poorer quality of life, as the risk of dying from cardiac complications is much greater than that of dying of COVID-19. Cardiac death is largely preventable if those experiencing distress, such as a heart attack or stroke, go to the hospital in time to get treatment.
If you are experiencing a heart or stroke emergency – this is NOT the time to ‘stay at home’ – if your heart says so, ‘#JustGo’ to the hospital or to your doctor.
Heart Valve Voice (HVV) Canada and its Board of Directors recognize the global impact of COVID-19 and the unique concerns it may raise for those with underlying health conditions such as heart valve disease.
COVID-19 has placed increased pressure on health care systems, not only pertaining to limiting and preventing the spread of the virus, but also managing and prioritizing the myriads of health demands that patients have.
If you have heart valve disease, it is important that you monitor your symptoms during this time and report any significant changes or deteriorations to your doctor or health care team. Changes or trends in your symptoms may indicate that you require early intervention and by not receiving urgent treatment, you may be putting your life at greater risk. It is normal and understandable to be fearful during this time, so we urge patients to communicate with their health care team as they will advise what is best for you. We understand that COVID-19 adds to heart valve disease patients’ pre-existing health concerns. And while this is a global challenge, we want to encourage you that things will get better.
HVV Canada, along with our colleagues and partners in other jurisdictions, are working together to ensure that individuals with heart valve disease have access to accurate and resourceful information during this time and will continue to update this page as more information becomes available.
We hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe and well during this time.
HVV Canada Board of Directors
If you are currently scheduled for surgery, you should continue to prepare for it unless your health care team tells you otherwise. With cases in Canada continuing to rise, it is possible that non-emergency operations may be cancelled to increase capacity within the health care system to treat patients with COVID-19. If your surgery is rescheduled, continue to monitor your symptoms closely (symptom tracker available here), inquire with your health care team about arranging weekly check-in calls if they haven’t already done so, and report to them if any of your symptoms worsen. If you are experiencing a severe health situation call 911.
Everyone should also be practicing physical distancing and avoiding social activities as per government guidelines.
If you have had a cardiac transplantation or are a pregnant woman with serious cardiac problems, you should quarantine within your home.
Patients who have recently undergone surgery or transcatheter valve intervention may have an increased risk of infection due to great exposure to germs within the hospital and to alteration of immune system.
Patients should continue with their regular rehab routine while taking the necessary steps to limit the risk of infection. It would also be valuable to inquire with your health care team about arranging weekly check-in calls if they haven’t already done so. If you begin to feel ill contact your doctor or call 911.
If you recently had heart valve surgery, it is important to self-isolate as much as possible and ask for help getting essential items like groceries and prescriptions. As you recover the risk of infection diminishes, however, avoiding public places as much as possible is highly recommended.
Elective surgery means that you and your doctor have had a chance to discuss the type of procedure that you require and then plan for when the procedure should be scheduled. This is different than emergency or urgent surgery which means that you need the procedure right away because your health is under immediate threat.
Based on observances of this virus, older age and underlying conditions (including heart conditions) have been risk factors for death. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest that individuals who have specifically had heart valve replacements are at any greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
It is important to recognize that research is limited on this virus. The most effective measure you can take right now is to practice physical distancing and self-isolate as much as possible.
If you have coronary artery disease and are experiencing chest pain, you should call 911. The Canadian health care system is still actively treating patients presenting with chest pain as a priority.
Several individuals with valvular heart disease also take anti-hypertensive medications such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II type-I receptor blockers. Some information has circulated on the internet stating that these medications may increase the risk of infection or the extent of cardiac damage with COVID-19. There is no scientific evidence to support this statement. If you are on this medication, you should not stop taking it unless your doctor advises you to do so.
For those living with heart disease the best way to prevent getting COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The Coronavirus is spread by droplet infection (such as coughing and sneezing), or by close contact with someone who has the virus. Limited research on the virus means that it is not known how easily it can be spread.
Individuals with heart conditions or people living with someone who has a heart condition should take extra precautions (i.e. self-isolation, limit all outings where possible). It is also important to be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 and take the recommended precautionary measures, including:
Content below is outlined by the Canadian Medical Association.
Medical grade masks should be reserved for front-line workers such as health care providers and those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Masks alone, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, are not protection against COVID-19. Non-medical grade or homemade masks can be useful if you’re unable to remain two metres away from others (such as at the grocery store) as a way to protect others from community spread cases, particularly if you’re asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.
If you choose to wear non-medical grade mask or homemade mask, please be aware that a mask doesn’t replace the need for physical distancing, there’s potential risk of infection when putting on, taking off and throwing out a mask – it should be treated as though it is infected, wash your hands thoroughly whenever you’ve touched your mask, do not share it with others, and change cloth masks once used or made damp and soak in hot water. Wearing a mask can also cause you to touch your face more frequently as you may need to adjust it, it is important to avoid doing this as it can introduce viruses and bacteria into the body.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are seeking medical attention, your doctor may recommend that you wear a mask. This helps to stop droplets from spreading to others. The recommendations of your health care provider should be followed.
This resource is a two-week diary that helps you track your symptoms in a convenient way. Being aware of your symptoms and their frequency is key to monitoring your health and being able to provide your doctor with the information that will help them understand your health situation.
It is important to remember that symptoms of heart valve disease can be similar to the symptoms of other forms of heart disease or problems with the lungs. The current situation with COVID-19 compounds this and makes it essential that you know your symptoms and how they are developing.
Below is a link to a downloadable symptom tracker for heart valve disease patients. This resource was created by the Global Heart Hub and is an easy way to monitor and recognize any recurrences or changes in symptoms during COVID-19. We encourage all patients to use this resource during this time.
COVID-19 and Heart Valve DiseaseWatch Video
HVV U.K. Chapter – Frequently Asked QuestionsWatch VideoRead
COVID-19 and People Living with Heart Valve DiseaseRead
COVID-19 and Heart Patients (Q&A)Read
'Crisis-Driven'Guidance on Structural Heart Disease in COVID-19Read
General COVID-19 Questions and AnswersRead
Article: Why the Coronavirus Is So ConfusingRead
NOTE: If your symptoms worsen, it is important to immediately seek medical attention. Hospitals remain equipped to treat heart valve disease patients in emergency situations and will have various precautions in place to help prevent exposure to COVID-19.Read