COVID-19 (Coronavirus): What It Means for Adults with Congenital Heart Disease

ACHA's COVID-19 Resources
COVID-19 is a new virus. It can affect your respiratory system (nose, throat, lungs), heart (new or increased arrhythmias), and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.

Because it is a new virus, there is limited evidence to make specific recommendations. However, based on experience with this and other viral illnesses, patients with lung and heart disease (including congenital heart disease) are at increased risk of becoming sick if infected with COVID-19.

The patients with congenital defects included in this higher risk group include those with:

  • single ventricles or those palliated with a Fontan circulation.
  • chronic cyanosis (oxygen saturations <85%).
  • heart failure or cardiomyopathy requiring medication.
  • defects requiring medication.
  • pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs).
  • heart transplants.
  • significant co-existing conditions (such as liver, kidney or chronic lung disease).
  • patients with reduced immunity including Down syndrome, DiGeorge syndrome and asplenia.

What can adults with congenital heart disease do to protect against COVID-19 and reduce the risk of catching the virus?
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and/or use sanitizer.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that you touch frequently daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
  • Based on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing recommendations, avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. This includes attending in-person school and college, socializing with family who do not live in your household, and going to restaurants and parties.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep 6 feet between members of your household and other people.
  • During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible. This will further reduce your risk of being exposed.
  • If someone in your home is sick, they should stay away from the rest of the household. This will reduce the risk of spreading the virus in your home.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items such as cups and towels.
  • Avoid unnecessary exposure to children. Although children with COVID-19 may have milder symptoms, they can pass on COVID-19 to those who are more at risk.
  • Avoid crowds and people who may be sick.
  • Avoid any unnecessary travel.
  • For more information on steps you can take to protect yourself, see CDC’s How to Protect Yourself.
What can adults with congenital heart disease do to prepare for social distancing?
  • Talk to your healthcare provider, insurer, and pharmacist about getting at least a 30-day supply of your regular prescription medications and medical equipment.
  • If you use oxygen, other lung support, or durable medical equipment, make sure you have enough supplies and know how to use your equipment.
  • Take your medication as prescribed.
  • Stock up on supplies that will keep you and your family safe and healthy. This includes healthy food and regular medications. You might want to review CDC’s Household Checklist.
  • Establish ways to regularly communicate with family and friends.
  • Create a household plan of action in case of illness.
  • Keep a thermometer in the house.
  • Check guidance from CDC regularly.
  • Stay up to date with information from the CDC, and your state and local public health departments, as the recommendations may change.
What if you or a member of your household has symptoms?

Symptoms related to COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms: 

  • Contact your primary care provider and your ACHD cardiologist to ask about your symptoms by phone, patient portal or email.
  • Limit visitors. Stay away from the rest of the household to decrease the chance of spreading the virus in your home.
  • Follow strict hand washing techniques. Avoid sharing household items.
  • If your symptoms are worsening, contact your provider or health department.
  • If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Tell the dispatcher your symptoms, that you have a cardiac condition and if you have known exposure or diagnosis with COVID-19.
How can you cope with this extra stress?

As COVID-19 spreads and we take action in our communities to combat the spread of disease, it is natural for some people to feel concerned or stressed. These strong emotions can trigger an elevated heart rate. Take steps to help yourself cope with stress and anxiety.

Things you can do to reduce stress:

  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Continue to follow a routine and regular schedule.
  • Continue to take all medications as prescribed.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories and social media. While it’s important to stay up to date, hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Spend some time outdoors if you can, but avoid crowds.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.
  • Watch ACHA current and past webinars dedicated to COVID-19 and the CHD patient:
How can adults with congenital heart disease access care?

If you do not have a primary care provider, a Federally Qualified Health Center near you should be able to treat you. They are generally required to provide a sliding scale and treat people regardless of ability to pay.

Ask to speak to a nurse and determine if telehealth appointments are available. If they are, that may be safer than visiting your doctor in person, if there is community spread in your area.

Check with your state’s health insurance exchange and/or Medicaid. Many states are temporarily opening enrollment. If you’ve lost your job, check with your state’s unemployment office, resources promoted by your governor or local community organizations and resources.