After leaving an unforgettable imprint on society for generations to come, the COVID-19 pandemic finally seems to be dissipating. It feels like yesterday, but the big changes started more than a year ago in March of 2020. The pandemic turned life upside down and placed most of our everyday favorite hobbies and routines on an indefinite pause. Work commutes were cancelled. We even stopped going to the doctor for fear of catching COVID.
While we were stuck at home, a funny thing happened. We forgot to count calories, work out, and watch what we eat. Instead, people ordered take-out, sat on their couch, watched the news and worried. The result? More than 61% of people gained unwanted pounds and compared it to the ‘freshman 15’ according to Healthline.
As a board-certified cardiologist trained in invasive and advanced non-invasive cardiology, I believe this toxic combination of unhealthy practices greatly increased the possibility of heart disease, diabetes, and other underlying conditions. In fact, I think many people may have had minor heart attacks without even knowing it. Because many stopped visiting the doctor during pandemic shut downs, such heart attacks were likely undiagnosed.
The data from both the United States and Europe seem to confirm my thinking. It shows a reduction in the number of ER visits, clinic visits and hospitalizations for cardiovascular issues. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in June of this year that deaths due to heart disease in 2020 were up by 3% or 32,000. The increase is one of only two that have happened in 20 years, and it is by far the worst. So yes, heart disease was there and increasing, but going undiagnosed.
Even with a minor heart attack, individuals can recognize the symptoms if they know what to look for. Some of these symptoms include chest pain, shoulder pain, back pain, neck or jaw pain, shortness of breath, tiredness or fatigue, cold sweats, nausea, and even heartburn-like symptoms at times.
There are some important things you can do to overcome the challenges of the pandemic when it comes to your heart. I often share with my patients four steps they can take immediately:
1) Get vaccinated. Probably the most crucial step is getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine will allow individuals to feel confident about going out in public places and return to their everyday lives. All states have different laws and regulations, but all seem to be following the same models and the same goal of safely reopening with the vaccine as a key.
2) Visit your doctor. Get in contact once again with your doctors and have your primary care physician conduct a thorough physical examination and look for signs of heart disease. They will determine whether or not you are in the best health or should have your concerns.
3) Return to your workout. Once cleared by your physician, it is time to get back into those fitness routines. Even a simple, less vigorous workout counts. FitnessBlender.com and other sites have fantastic free home workout videos to help individuals get back into their routines.
4) Start eating healthy at home. Rather than constantly eating out, it is time to start cooking healthy at home again and know exactly what you are eating.
ABOUT DR. SADI RAZA:
Sadi Raza, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist. He is trained in invasive and advanced non-invasive cardiology. This includes Echocardiography (including intra-op and intra-procedural TEE for TAVR, left atrial appendage occluders) and Nuclear cardiology (PET and SPECT) at the University of Vermont with additional training in Advanced Cardiac Imaging (Cardiac MRI and Cardiac CT) at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. His interests include general cardiology and cardiovascular consultations, preventative cardiology, stress testing, and the management of both acute and chronic cardiovascular issues on both an in-patient and out-patient basis. He is based near Dallas, Texas.
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