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Pandemic takes toll on heart health: 41% report at least 1 issue in survey

The pandemic seems to have disrupted healthy habits that protect the heart.
/ Source: TODAY

The pandemic has been taking a toll on Americans’ hearts — even those who’ve never had COVID-19 — with 41% reporting they have experienced at least one cardiac-related issue since March 2020, according to a Cleveland Clinic survey released on Tuesday.

The most common problems included shortness of breath, which affected almost one-fifth of respondents; dizziness and increased blood pressure, each cited by 15%; and chest pain, reported by 13%.

Of those who did test positive for COVID-19, more than a quarter, 27%, said the disease impacted their heart health.

Previous research has found the virus can linger in the heart for months, with complications that can include blood clots, heart inflammation, disruption of the heart rhythm, heart failure and heart attacks. Last month, the American Heart Association announced it was launching studies into the long-term effects of the virus on the heart.

The pandemic also seems to have disrupted healthy habits that protect the heart, the new survey found. The number of Americans who said they often sat throughout the day rose from 33% before the crisis to 38% after. More than one-fifth, 22%, said increased responsibilities at home meant they had less time to exercise regularly.

Mental health plays a role, too. Depression and anxiety worsened during the pandemic, which put people at higher risk for heart disease, researchers reported last fall.

With the start of American Heart Month in February, cardiologists urged everyone to find ways to improve their lifestyle.

“Now is the time to refocus on our heart health,” said Dr. Samir Kapadia, chair of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic, in a statement.

“We know 90% of heart disease is preventable through a healthier diet, regular exercise and not smoking.”

Becoming more aware of those factors may be key. Only 22% of Americans knew the Mediterranean diet was heart healthy, the survey found. Meanwhile, more than a third didn’t know high blood pressure, obesity, smoking or vaping could raise the risk of heart disease.

In a more positive finding, about two-thirds of Americans said they've had their blood pressure checked in the last six months. Monitoring that number offers an important glimpse into heart health.

The responses come from on an online survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults completed in November 2021.