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Covid-19 and the heart

Covid-19 can be damaging to your heart health. Learn everything you need to know about Covid-19 and the heart and find out about vaccination and other measures to protect yourself.

Heart tests can tell you about the health of your heart.

In this article

What is Covid-19?

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

Covid-19 symptoms include:

  • a new or worsening cough
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • a fever
  • shortness of breath
  • temporary loss of smell or altered sense of taste
  • sore throat
  • extreme tiredness.

Less common symptoms may include:

  • diarrhoea
  • headache
  • muscle pain or body aches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • malaise — a general feeling of discomfort, illness or unease
  • chest pain
  • abdominal pain
  • joint pain
  • confusion or irritability.

Most people have some but not all of these symptoms. Some people will have no symptoms.

If you’re experiencing Covid-19 symptoms, it’s important you get tested. You can find more information on testing and isolating on the Covid-19 website.

If you have severe chest pain or difficulty breathing, call 111 immediately.

Impact of Covid-19 on the heart

Covid-19 can affect several organs in the body, including the heart. The virus damages the cells that line the blood vessels (endothelial cells). This can affect the blood supply to the heart and body and can also cause abnormal blood clotting.

Emerging evidence shows that catching the Covid-19 virus increases your risk of developing a wide range of heart conditions including:

The risk appears to be increased even if you’ve only had a mild case of Covid-19 infection and don’t have a pre-existing heart condition.

The heart is also affected in Long Covid, with symptoms including:

  • chest pain
  • irregular heart rhythms
  • heart palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue.

The single best way to reduce your risk from Covid-19 is to get your vaccination and eligible booster shots.

Am I more at risk from Covid-19 if I have a heart condition?

People with a heart condition are more likely to become severely ill from Covid-19. This includes:

You are also more likely to become seriously ill if you have certain heart disease risk factors including:

  • obesity (a body mass index of more than 35)
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar or schizoaffective disorder
  • chronic kidney disease.

You may also be at greater risk if you:

  • are over 70
  • live in an aged care facility
  • smoke
  • are Māori, Pasifika or of another ethnic minority (particularly if there’s also crowded housing and difficulty accessing healthcare)
  • are pregnant.

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

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 4.00pm. 

If you have questions on weekends or public holidays, you can email hearthealthinfo@heartfoundation.org.nz.  

We will respond to you within five working days. 

Heart medication and Covid-19

It is really important you continue to take your heart medication as usual during the pandemic or if you catch Covid-19. 

Stopping your medication could be dangerous and make your condition worse, putting you at greater risk of severe illness from Covid-19. 

Heart treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic

It is important to continue regular contact with your healthcare team.

Your healthcare provider may have some extra precautions in place to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection, including consultations by phone or video instead of face to face.

Call your healthcare provider before your appointment if you think there may be changes to the normal system.

What if my heart condition worsens during a Covid-19 outbreak?

If you notice a change in your heart condition, call your GP or cardiac nurse to discuss your symptoms.

If you or someone you are caring for experience any of the following symptoms, call 111 immediately:

  • severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • severe chest pain or discomfort
  • difficulty waking up or very drowsy.

What if Iā€™m waiting for a cardiac appointment?

If you’re waiting for an appointment to see a heart doctor or have a heart-related test, it is worthwhile checking up on your referral after four weeks if you haven’t received any acknowledgement. There could be delays due to extra pressures on the health system and your local hospital.

You can either:

Ring your GP and ask them if your referral has been received by the hospital.

Or

Ring the hospital and ask for the cardiology outpatient scheduler. Have your NHI number handy. It consists of three letters followed by four numbers and is on most medical notes and prescriptions (or ask your GP practice for it). The scheduler can confirm whether your referral has been received and may also be able to tell you when you’ll get the appointment letter. You can ask to be put on the cancellation waiting list in the hope you’ll be seen sooner. It’s also worth mentioning if you live nearby.

It’s important to let your GP know if your symptoms get worse while you’re waiting for an appointment. They can write a new referral with your updated condition so that the hospital can reassess your position on the wait list.

What can I do to keep myself safe from Covid-19?

Although Covid-19 has spread through Aotearoa, there are still some things you can do to reduce your risk of catching the virus. 

Vaccination and booster 

A vaccination and booster are your best way to reduce your chance of getting seriously ill from Covid-19.  

Read more about Covid 19 vaccinations

Face masks 

Masks are required in certain healthcare facilities such as hospitals and aged care residential facilities. They are also encouraged if you're:

  • in crowded spaces
  • at higher risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19
  • visiting someone at high risk.

The Covid-19 website has more information on how to wear and care for your facemasks. 

Other safety tips:

  • Keep a safe distance away from people you don’t live with.
  • Where possible, have social catch ups outside.
  • If you’re meeting indoors, let in fresh air to reduce the risk of spread.
  • Consider asking people who don’t live with you to take a RAT test before they visit.
  • Avoid large crowds where possible.
  • Consider flexible working arrangements or other ways to reduce risk at work.

You can find out more about keeping yourself safe on the Covid-19 website.

What if I test positive for Covid-19?

If you test positive for Covid-19, you’ll need to isolate yourself for seven days. If you still have symptoms after the seventh day, you will need to wait until 24 hours after your symptoms have gone.

Most people who catch Covid-19 are likely to have a mild to moderate illness, especially if fully vaccinated and boosted. You can usually manage this at home.

Get lots of sleep, and make sure you stay well hydrated. Items that can help relieve your symptoms include:

  • paracetamol or ibuprofen for headaches, aches and fever
  • throat lozenges or a spray
  • decongestants
  • cough medicine
  • hydration fluids
  • honey or salt gargles to help ease a sore throat or cough.

Antiviral medication for Covid-19

Antiviral medication is available for those at high risk of severe illness from Covid-19. If you catch Covid-19, this medication can prevent serious illness and help keep you out of hospital. You may be eligible for this treatment if you:

  • are aged 65 or over
  • are of Māori or Pacific ethnicity and aged 50-plus
  • are aged 50-plus AND have not completed a primary course of Covid-19 vaccinations
  • have a combination of  3 or more high-risk medical conditions
  • have a severely weakened immune system
  • have Down Syndrome
  • have sickle cell disease
  • have been previously admitted to critical care or high dependency care as a result of Covid-19 and have tested positive again.

Covid-19 antiviral medication must be taken as soon as possible but no later than day five of symptoms.

You can find out more about Covid-19 treatments and your eligibility on the Covid-19 website.

Monitor your symptoms

You may have a few days where you feel quite unwell, and monitoring your symptoms is essential, particularly if they worsen.

The Covid-19 Health Hub gives more information on monitoring your symptoms and when to call for help.

When should I seek urgent medical help?

If you or someone you are caring for experience any of the following symptoms, call 111 immediately:

  • severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • severe chest pain or discomfort
  • difficulty waking up or very drowsy.

Recovery from Covid-19

It’s important to allow yourself time to recover from Covid-19. You may find that you are easily fatigued or breathless. This is common after being sick. 

You should take it easy as you return to your normal activities. Make sure you: 

  • get plenty of sleep 
  • eat well 
  • rest if you need to 
  • pace yourself. 

It’s important to take time to gradually build up to your pre-Covid levels of activity and exercise. Returning too quickly to previous levels can slow your recovery and prolong your symptoms.  

If you have any concerns, you should talk to your doctor or healthcare professional. 

Read more about recovery on the Covid-19 website

Long Covid

Long Covid is when you have symptoms three months or more after the initial infection.

Common symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • breathlessness or shortness of breath
  • headaches
  • heart palpitations
  • ‘brain fog’
  • difficulty sleeping
  • anxiety and depression
  • persistent cough.

You can learn more about Long Covid on the Ministry of Health website.