Specialist explains how COVID-19 impacts people with heart conditions

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A cardiac electrophysiologist at Lovelace shared how patients with pre-existing heart conditions could develop severe COVID-19 symptoms and what they can do to better their odds at beating the virus.

“What we do know is that patients that do have those pre-existing conditions do worse with COVID-19,” said Dr. Yaw Adjel-Poku.

Dr. Adjel-Poku explained what happens when the virus makes its way into the heart’s cells.

"What it looks like happens is there’s certain receptors of the virus, which almost mimic the same receptors that are on your heart muscle tissue. What happens is, your immune system actually — in trying to attack the virus — sometimes inadvertently attacks your heart muscle cells,” he said.

He said several studies point out harsher coronavirus symptoms for people with underlying heart conditions.

"What it looks like is upwards of 40% to 50% of patients that do have COVID have underlying pre-existing medical or cardiac issues,” he said. “Heart disease not only increases the risk that you may be admitted to the intensive care unit but definitely increases that risk of potential death from the COVID virus."

Dr. Adjel-Poku said people with heart issues have beat the virus, but there could be more to the battle. He said long-term effects are possible for some survivors.

One of those possible long term effects is myocarditis, which means there’s damage to the heart’s muscle from a viral infection.

"It’s important that afterwards you continue to make sure you have a close relationship with your physician to potentially look out for those long-term issues with COVID,” he said.

He also added that it’s important to check in with your doctor at the first thought of having COVID-19, even before test results of symptoms come in.

“I think it’s definitely possible to be able to fight the virus and come out on the other side,” he said.