MONDAY, May 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The coronavirus pandemic shouldn't stop people with heart problems from seeking medical care, experts say.
"Either call your doctor or come to the emergency department. Don't take chances with heart disease," said Dr. Sam Torbati, co-director of the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"We are very concerned that fears over COVID-19 is resulting in harm," he said in a news release. "If you're having chest pain, trouble breathing, feel faint, have new weakness or trouble with speech or any severe unexplained pain, you should call 911 as in the past."
Although patients with heart disease are not at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, those who do are likely to become sicker than others, said Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the women's heart center at Cedar-Sinai's Smidt Heart Institute.
"That's because viruses like COVID-19 put further stress on an already fatigued heart," she said.
A Smidt Heart Institute study published recently in the journal Circulation Research suggests that heart injury is prominent in between 20% and 30% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The study said it has contributed to about 40% of COVID-19 deaths.
"Those are troubling statistics for healthy individuals who contract novel coronavirus, but for patients with underlying heart conditions, it can be catastrophic," said lead author Dr. Eduardo Marban, executive director of the heart institute.
"With more research, we hope to better uncover the connection between the respiratory virus and the heart. In the interim, we need patients with heart disease to follow precautionary guidelines to avoid contraction," he added.
Those precautions include washing hands frequently, not touching the face, social distancing and limiting contact with people outside your household.
Merz noted that men and women often have different symptoms of a heart attack. Women can experience tightness in their jaw and debilitating fatigue, while typical men's symptoms can include tingling in their left arm.
The American Heart Association offers COVID-19 resources.