World Health Day: Here’s how 2 years of Covid-19 pandemic affected heart health

Updated on: 20 April 2022, 11:17 am IST
On World Health Day, an expert analyses how Covid-19 has affected people’s mental health due to social stress, as well as dented heart health.
Dr Sanjay Cherian
You can pre-empt a heart attack if you go for these tests. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
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Covid-19 has caused tremendous medical, economic, social and cultural stress on the entire planet, especially on women. Women were more likely to experience long-term post Covid psychological dysfunction, apart from effects on the heart health.

How is a woman’ heart health affected due to Covid-19?

Clinical studies had highlighted the association between high levels of mental stress/depression and adverse effects on the heart in women including myocardial ischemia (MI) and stroke. Mental stress–induced MI (MSIMI) was noted to be more common in women under 50 years of age when compared to men of the same age group.

Research has clearly shown that cells in the heart have Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors onto which the Covid-19 virus gets attached, which leads to an active inflammatory reaction in the heart cells leading to heart muscle damage. Furthermore, the inner lining of the blood cells (endothelial cells of the veins and arteries) are also damaged. As a result of this, there is a high incidence of blood formation in the heart and lungs. This further decreases the blood supply to these vital organs.

What are the other health risks that came with Covid-19?

Post Covid-19 infection, patients may develop long-term fatigue, breathlessness on exertion, chest pain on exertion radiating to the left shoulder and left arm, especially while performing strenuous exercises, while climbing stairs, palpitations, irregular heartbeat, decreased ability to exercise.

Stay active and keep your heart healthy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

A detailed clinical examination by a medical doctor followed by investigations like ECG, ECHOcardiography, Xray, blood tests (including Troponin), Pulmonary function tests, CT scans will help to identify myocardial heart muscle damage and lung damage.

How to cut the risk of heart diseases?

In addition to regular annual check-ups, it is important to continue with deep breathing exercises, yoga or Pranayama which will help to improve the lung capacity and also to augment the overall health of the heart, lungs and circulatory system. It is important to exercise routinely in a slow and phased manner. Many of the complications that have been seen in Covid-19 patients are due to excessive and strenuous exercises and crash diets in an attempt to return to pre-Covid levels within a very short period of time which can be detrimental to the heart.

Kapalbhati pranayama has massive health benefits especially, protecting against Covid-19. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented levels of mental and emotional stress, especially in women. The uncertainty due to the fear of infection, economic losses, and isolation due to quarantining has triggered a substantial decline in mental health. However, women’s mental health appears to be disproportionately affected.

Emerging data shows that women are suffering more than men from the pandemic-associated stressors, and that there are higher self-reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and poor psychological well-being in them. Moreover, since women are already at a higher risk for depressive and anxiety disorders, the current environmental stress has only further intensified the severity of these disorders in women.

Keep the stress away to keep your heart in good shape! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are other factors that add to the risk of heart disorders?

Disparities in job security, wages, and social pressure to stay home to care for children and older family members have significantly heightened psychological and physical pressure in women when compared to their male counterparts.
Moreover, women have experienced a decline in access to essential reproductive and life-saving health services due to health resources being diverted toward Covid-19 care.

Furthermore, women have suffered increased domestic violence during the pandemic, especially throughout the lockdown due to constant spousal contact and conflicts. Experiencing intense or chronic stress in this way can trigger heart attacks and harm cardiovascular health.

Dr Sanjay Cherian

Consultant - Cardio Thoracic and vascular Surgeon, Frontier Lifeline Hospital

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