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special report

Update 2021: Awareness of cardiac health encouraged during pandemic

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Dr. Raashid Ashraf

Dr. Raashid Ashraf

Even during the pandemic, medical professionals have considered cardiac health a top priority. While people should always keep their heart health in mind, it is particularly important during the pandemic to stay on top of your physical and mental health, according to a local physician.

Dr. Raashid Ashraf is a cardiologist for Cardiovascular Associates in Talladega, part of the Brookwood Baptist Health Specialty Care Network, and he has had a front row seat to how COVID-19 can impact the heart. 

Ashraf said when it comes to heart health, there are five things people need to pay close attention to, and they are blood pressure control, cholesterol control, diabetes management, tobacco use and family history of heart disease. Taking care of these five risk factors can minimize the risk of having a heart attack. 

He added, “In general, people who have multiple cardiac risk factors are more likely to have complicated COVID-19 infection. Therefore, it is very important for them to practice masking and social distancing for prevention. The healthier your body is at the baseline, the better equipped you are to handle the infection.”

With more than 100 million cases worldwide, medical professionals have learned a lot about the effects of COVID-19 infection on the heart, but there is still much to learn.  “So far, what we know is that there are a variety of ways that COVID-19 can affect the heart. Patients can present with a heart attack, congestive heart failure, inflammation of the heart, called myocarditis/pericarditis or arrhythmia of the heart. These conditions can produce a spectrum of symptoms ranging from chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, generalized weakness, swelling or, in more severe cases, to cardiac arrest.”

Ashraf said people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection need to pay close attention to their symptoms. For example, if they continue to have residual chest pain or shortness of breath or palpitations, they need to consult their primary physician or cardiologist. Some of these conditions, such as congestive heart failure, need to be addressed right away. If congestive heart failure is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications. Ashraf emphasized that patients should not be afraid of going to the hospital for fear of catching the virus.  Hospitals have protocols in place to ensure the safety of patients, and unnecessary delay in seeking help can lead to complications and progression of the disease.

“Prevention is the key,” said Ashraf. He encourages patients to watch their weight, do regular exercise, avoid tobacco products, and aggressively control their blood pressure and diabetes. Diabetes can compromise the immune system and put you at a greater risk of catching all kinds of infections, including COVID-19.

Ashraf added that some patients think that it may be too late to start a healthy lifestyle, thinking that the damage has already been done, but he has a message for them. “Like the saying goes, it’s never too late to start a good thing. With a healthy lifestyle, one can reverse some of the damage done and also prevent further harm,” he said.

The cardiologist is a proponent of taking a COVID-19 vaccination.

“I would like to spread the word that people should get themselves vaccinated against COVID-19,” he said. “Getting the vaccine is a huge protection against dying from the COVID-19 infection. Vaccines are safe and protective. So, for all those people who have not had their vaccine, you need to register with the nearest vaccination center.  We also need to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing.”