As we practice social distancing and while many of us are under “stay at home” orders, you may be wondering how to handle routine doctor appointments. If you have a heart condition, you likely have regular appointments with your primary care physician and possibly a cardiologist, or heart doctor.
First, you should check with your doctor to determine if he or she is offering virtual visits. Virtual visits are a way physicians can connect with their patients either on the phone or using two-way audio and visual communication software. Most physicians are offering these services. Virtual care is often available through your cell phone, tablet, laptop, or computer. Medicare and Medicaid, along with many private insurance companies now pay for this type of visit. If your heart condition is stable, a virtual visit may be all you need at this time. You may even be able to handle new prescriptions, medication renewals, medication adjustments, and arrange follow up visits and cardiac testing, this way. If your doctor does not offer virtual visits, he and she will instruct you as to whether you need to be seen in the office.
For more urgent care, or if your heart condition is not stable, you may need an in-person visit. Most offices have made plans for this and are taking action to minimize your risk of exposure to COVID-19 if you do need to come into the office. Most offices or sites are checking patients for symptoms at the door and redirecting patients who are ill with COVID-19-like symptoms to another site of care, or taking precautions to isolate them from other patients.
Please do not forgo care for important health issues such as heart disease, as doing so might result in a hospitalization. Unfortunately, there have been many examples during the COVID-19 pandemic where patients have remained at home with a worsening serious condition out of fear of calling the doctor or going to the Emergency Room, only to experience a bad outcome by delaying care. Stay in contact with your doctor so you are still able to get the care you need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cardiac patients who experience a change in their condition or pattern of their symptoms, or who develop new symptoms should contact their physician. If such change is concerning for a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the emergency room. Know if you have risk factors for a heart attack or stroke: Hypertension, Diabetes, Smoking, High Cholesterol, Obesity, or a Family History of Heart Disease or Stroke. Know the typical warning signs of a Heart Attack: Chest discomfort, especially radiating to the neck or arm(s), often associated with shortness of breath, sudden nausea, sweating, or dizziness. For possible stroke, remember F.A.S.T.: Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time -get to the Emergency Room quickly for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Other potential cardiac symptoms that you should contact your doctor about include:
- An increase in your weight of more than 3 pounds in a day or 5 pounds in a week
- An increase in swelling, especially of your legs or abdomen
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat
- A shock if you have an implantable defibrillator (ICD).
Most importantly, despite the concerns related to the Coronavirus, patients should not ignore symptoms of heart disease or be afraid to seek help when needed. Delaying necessary heart care can result in serious problems.