As a heart disease specialist based at the Movement Family Wellness Center in Charlotte, Dr. Akshay Pendyal MD MHS FACC has a front row seat to one of the COVID-19 pandemic’s most striking elements.
The clinic, which is located on Freedom Drive, serves many Hispanic and African-American patients -- two populations that have been disproportionately affected by the novel virus at both the local and national levels.
The causes of this imbalance are due in large part to disparities in education, housing, healthy food, and access to healthcare. Known collectively as “social determinants of health,” these factors are critical to overall health and well-being. Racial and ethnic disparities in these social determinants of health, in turn, contribute to higher rates of chronic conditions such as obesity , diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) among Black and Latino populations. And because these chronic conditions are associated with more severe outcomes in patients with COVID-19, this is one reason why Black and Latino populations have been disproportionately affected.
What special risks, if any, does COVID-19 present to people with heart disease/conditions?
Patients with heart disease are at higher risk of getting really sick from the virus, to the point where they may require hospitalization or intensive care. By "heart disease," I mean common conditions such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure (an inability of the heart to adequately pump blood), and coronary artery disease (or plaque buildup in the walls of the blood vessels).
What special precautions should heart patients take to protect themselves from becoming infected?
I tell all of the patients I see in my cardiology clinic -- Latino and non-Latino -- to always wear a mask when leaving the house, to avoid large gatherings and to maintain social distancing, and to wash their hands frequently.
Should heart patients be vaccinated for COVID-19?
Yes! I am advising my patients to get vaccinated against COVID-19 - once the vaccine becomes widely available, of course. Some patients are worried, I think, that the vaccine hasn't been studied adequately. And due, in large part, to a lot of misinformation that's been circulating, people are rightfully feeling scared and anxious.
One thing I tell all of my patients is that the technology that forms the basis for the vaccine has been around for a while and has been extensively studied by researchers across the world. This technology involves using your body's own defenses in preventing you from getting sick.
The vaccine has, by now, been administered safely to hundreds of thousands of people. The scientists, public health officials, and folks in government who've been involved in this massive scientific effort are just like you and me — they care about their own health, the health of their loved ones, and their communities. I trust the process that the vaccine has gone through, and I myself have already received "the shot."
Given the steeply climbing rate of hospitalizations and deaths that we are seeing—and which I’m afraid is only going to continue to get worse —widespread vaccination (along with masking, etc.) may be our only way out of the current crisis.
Have you seen any evidence of heart damage from COVID-19 in your patients?
I have seen some, yes. I have encountered patients in my clinic who contracted the virus months ago, but still seem to have problems with low blood pressure, high heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, and low oxygen levels.
Any final words of advice for heart patients?
“I have been closely monitoring my patients who have a history of COVID-19 infection,” said Prendyal. “Frequent office visits, vital signs (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen levels), and diagnostic tests such as electrocardiograms (EKGs) and routine bloodwork (e.g., to examine things like kidney function) are all crucial elements in making sure that people are on the road to recovery.”
The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis unlike one we've ever seen. I am so impressed by the patients that I see in my clinic; how they've been working so hard to care for themselves and their families during this difficult time. We will get through this, but it's going to take everyone's help! Wear a mask, wash your hands, and, once you're able to, I urge everyone to get vaccinated. I want everyone to have a safe and healthy New Year!