Covid-19 and heart disease

New Zealand is at alert level 1. We explain what this means for people living with heart conditions.

In this article

Covid-19 is a new virus that can affect your lungs, airways and sometimes your heart. It is one of a large group of different viruses called coronaviruses.

There is currently no vaccine to stop you getting Covid-19, but there are simple steps that you, your family and whānau can take to reduce your risk of getting it.

Visit the Covid-19 website for up to date advice from the government.

Covid-19 website

Current alert level

New Zealand is at alert level 1. This means Covid-19 is controlled within New Zealand but is still uncontrolled overseas. At alert level 1 we all need to be ready in case Covid-19 reappears in our community. 

If you're at high risk

People at high risk of severe illness such as those with a heart condition or older people should be careful when out and about. Keep a physical distance from other people, and keep up good hygiene practices.

Things you can do to stay safe:

  • Keep a two metre distance from people you don't know in public places and take extra care with hygiene practices.
  • Avoid touching surfaces and wash your hands before and after you leave home.
  • Wipe keys, handrails and regularly touched surfaces.
  • Avoid passing around your mobile phone to other people.
  • If you're working and considered at risk of severe illness from Covid-19, talk with your employer about doing a risk assessment in your workplace to look at what the risk is for you and how it can be reduced.

Facemasks

At alert level 1, you are not legally required to wear face coverings because there is no evidence of community transmission of Covid-19.

There is still a risk of Covid-19 returning to the community. We encourage you to use face coverings on public transport and when you can't keep a physical distance from people you don't know, for example in supermarkets.

Be prepared and have a supply of face coverings for everyone who usually lives in your household. Add some to your household emergency kit.

The World Health Organisation's video about how to wear a facemask safely.

You can find information on how to wear a face mask safely and how to make your own facemask on the government’s Covid-19 website.

I have heart disease, am I more at risk from Covid-19?

Having a heart condition doesn't make you more likely to catch Covid-19.

However, research from overseas shows that people with heart disease or a serious heart condition are more likely to become severely ill from Covid-19 and have a higher risk of death.

Other medical conditions that put you more at risk include:

  • chronic lung disease such as cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive respiratory disease emphysema, severe asthma
  • high blood pressure that isn't well controlled
  • diabetes that isn’t well controlled
  • chronic kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • conditions and treatments that weaken your immune system, such as some cancers, immune deficiencies.

You may also be at more risk if you:

  • are over 70
  • live in an aged care facility
  • smoke
  • are Māori, Pacific or of another ethnic minority, particularly where there are also chronic health conditions, crowded housing and difficulty accessing healthcare.
  • are severely obese (have a BMI of 40 or over).
  • are undergoing dialysis.
  • are in the third stage of pregnancy.

You can read more about at risk groups of the Ministry of Health website.

Taking heart medication

It's important to keep taking your heart medication as prescribed.

This includes ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers). At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest these medications make Covid-19 worse. 

If you stop taking your medication, your heart condition could get worse and you may be at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin strongly advises people living with heart conditions to continue taking all their medications unless otherwise advised by their doctor.

"There has been some speculation concerning the safety of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) in relation to Coronavirus (Covid-19) infection. There is no clinical evidence or scientific basis to support the speculation.

"ACE-i and ARBs are common medications used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure and people who have suffered a heart attack.

"Stopping your medication for high blood pressure and heart conditions could be dangerous and it's important people continue taking medications as prescribed by your doctor," says Gerry.

Medical appointments

For medical emergencies, call 111 immediately. Do not delay treatment if you think you're having a heart attack.

Healthcare providers will have procedures in place to protect people who are vulnerable to severe Covid-19 from exposure to the virus.

This will include:

  • strict adherence to infection prevention and control protocols 
  • screening on entrance to medical facilities

Getting a flu shot

If you haven't already got a flu vaccination, it's a good idea to get one as soon as possible.

A flu shot won't stop you getting coronavirus, but it will help you stay as healthy as possible and reduce the burden on hospitals.

Who can I call with questions about my heart condition and Covid-19?

The Heart Foundation has a nurse-run free phone line for advice about heart conditions and can give information on Covid-19 and the heart.

The Heart Helpline is available on 0800 863 375 Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm.

If you have questions on weekends or public holidays, you can email hearthealthinfo@heartfoundation.org.nz. We will respond to you the next business day.

What if I have Covid-19 symptoms?

The main symptoms of Covid-19 are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38°C)
  • difficulty breathing
  • sore throat
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • temporary loss of smell.

If you have Covid-19 symptoms you must get a test as soon as possible, particularly if you're in a high-risk group. A Covid test is free for everyone, even if you don't have Covid symptoms. 

To organise a test call: 

  • your doctor
  • iwi health provider, or
  • Healthline for free on 0800 358 5453.

Difficulty breathing can be a possible sign of pneumonia and requires medical attention.

If it is a medical emergency call 111 immediately.

Try to self-isolate from other members of your household as much as possible. You can find more information on testing on the Government's Covid-19 website.

Contact our heart help nurses