This week kicks off American Heart Month and concerns are over heart problems are rising because of the pandemic. It's been around for more than a year now, but there is still much to learn about COVID-19 and the possible lingering effects on your heart.
"I can't underscore enough how important it is to use this as a wake-up call to really get our lifestyles into better shape," said Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health.
Dr. Freeman says some patients who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to experience complications like elevated heart rates, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm and a prolonged fatigued state, even months after recovery.
"What I tell people, and what I'm seeing is my hope that you'll have a full recovery like other viral syndromes, but we're definitely seeing people who have not fully recovered."
Dr. Freeman says it's still unclear how long those effects may last. Those who are most at risk for heart problems after a COVID-19 diagnosis are severely overweight, not active and have other underlying conditions like diabetes.
"You may want to talk to a cardiologist if you're short of breath, if your legs are swelling, if your belly is swelling," said Dr. Freeman. "If you're finding you can't have a conversation with people anymore because you're so short of breath, these are important signs and symptoms."
While the pandemic may have people afraid to seek medical care, Dr. Freeman says it's important to do so.
"The number one killer of people in the United States is still heart disease. It's not COVID. So, people need to take their symptoms seriously."
There are ways to help lower one's risk of heart problems, regardless of COVID status. A plant-based diet, lowering stress, connecting with others and getting at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep can help.