After a full year, there are finally signs of light at the end of the tunnel that has been the global COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines are rolling out and showing some effectiveness, and people, including clinicians, are making plans for a “post-COVID future.”
This gives us an opportunity to take stock of what we’ve learned and where we want to go. That’s why the FH Foundation was proud to host a broad and comprehensive presentation with Dr. Laurence S. Sperling, MD, FACC, FAHA, FACP, FASPD, founder of Preventive Cardiology, Emory Clinic, and Katz Professor in preventive cardiology, Emory Clinic. In his talk, Dr. Sperling explored learnings and predictions related to the past, present, and future of COVID-19, and applied them to understanding the most destructive pandemic in human history: heart disease.
COVID-19 and Heart Disease: A Bidirectional Relationship
The risk factors and effects of COVID-19 and poor cardiac health, Dr. Sperling emphasizes, are very much interrelated. Underlying comorbidities such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and diabetes can increase the susceptibility to, and severity of, a COVID-19 infection. Likewise, the respiratory stress and systemic inflammation associated with COVID-19 can worsen certain cardiac conditions.
Many unanswered questions
Concerning the relationship between COVID-19 and specific risk factors including familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) and high levels of lipoprotein(a), or “LP(a),” there is much that is yet unknown. Relevant information is still being collected and analyzed. Indeed, this is one of many subjects related to COVID-19 - such as the long-term effects of COVID-19, or the challenges faced by “long-haulers'' whose symptoms linger for months - that we will continue to learn about for many years to come. The FH Foundation is conducting specific data analysis and research into this area, and hope to publish more on the topic very soon.
Heart health: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic
However, our collective experience with COVID-19 can teach us a lot about how to plan for similar epidemics in the future - and how to handle poor heart health, which is the most destructive pandemic of all time. Did you know that heart disease kills more people each year worldwide then cancer? How we absorb and react to these lessons will have a tremendous impact on future public health initiatives as well as individual behavior. It’s important that we learn and do the right things.
Dr. Sperling highlights two big lessons:
- Do not delay care
- Emphasize preventative care
Do not delay care!
During the worst of the pandemic, statistics show that many individuals were less likely to seek treatment for heart attacks, strokes, and uncontrolled high blood sugar. Some faced economic uncertainty, while others were afraid of contracting COVID-19 in care facilities. Reluctance to seek care is extremely dangerous and can only lead to more serious complications down the road, particularly when we inevitably encounter another situation similar to this pandemic. Therefore, the healthcare establishment must empower and encourage patients to seek care when they need it. It’s our responsibility to eliminate barriers to care for those with cardiac conditions. No one should have to face this alone.
Emphasize preventive cardiac care
At the FH Foundation, we have long believed that, when it comes to cardiac health, the most powerful care is preventative care. In the near-term future, continuing fears and uncertainties may pose blocks to providing high-quality preventative care. It’s our responsibility to overcome these and to build strong infrastructure and community support for those who aim to stop cardiac health issues before they begin. The healthcare system and the study of public health must be more tightly integrated. Since small-scale social determinants are quite powerful, an effective approach may be a combination of large-scale national strategies and “zoomed-in,” hyperlocal initiatives. Challenges create opportunities, and right now we have plenty of both!
How you can get involved
There are many ways you can get involved, including through the FH Foundation:
- Share FH resources with your friends and family, including our collection of resources specific to COVID-19.
- Join our online discussion groups for support.
- Share your story with the FH Foundation.
- Volunteer your time and compassion.
- Make a donation to support our efforts.
As Dr. Sperling reminds us, the lessons of the global COVID-19 pandemic are only beginning to come into focus. Many challenges have been overcome, and many more await. How we use this experience to improve outcomes for heart patients, and for all of us, depends on how we work together.