OMAHA, Neb — Due to the pandemic, many of us delayed medical check-ups. Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, President of the American Heart Association, spoke with 3 News Now on the importance of seeking regular medical care, concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19, lifestyle changes due to the pandemic, mental health, and vaccine safety.
In addition to his volunteer work with the American Heart Association, Lloyd-Jones is Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Eileen M. Foell Professor of Heart Research and Professor of Preventive Medicine, Medicine-Cardiology, and Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“We’re still seeing that about one-in-five people are delaying healthcare visits,” said Lloyd-Jones, who is considered a leading expert in cardiovascular disease prevention and epidemiology. “I think probably largely because of concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus.”
He said those numbers have improved from a year ago, but that “it's still too many people” who are avoiding healthcare appointments. He explained clinics and hospitals have procedures in place to reduce the chances of COVID-19 transmission during a medical visit.
For patients who have already had COVID-19 and are experiencing long-haul symptoms, he said that it is important people stay connected to their physicians and that it can be more than the lungs affected by a COVID-19 infection.
“We know that there can be effects on the heart and the brain that can linger over time. So, if people have persistent symptoms, it’s very important for them to get in touch, under management with their doctor, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to get them back to recovery as soon as possible,” said Lloyd-Jones.
He said that people who already have cardiovascular disease, have had a heart attack, had a stroke, or have other risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, or high blood pressure are at particularly high risk for this virus. Vaccination is especially important for those people because it will protect them from severe complications.
"And there’s no reason, from any of the data that we’ve seen, to suggest that side effects from the vaccine would be worse for those people and the protection is clearly more important,” he added.
He said that there are some breakthrough infections of COVID-19 in vaccinated people, but that the chance of severe illness is much lower in someone who has been vaccinated.
Weight gain is also a common side-effect of the pandemic.
“Because of the pandemic so many of us are in the same boat here,” said Lloyd-Jones. “The COVID-19 is the 19 pounds that Americans gained on average during the pandemic because we couldn’t eat as healthily as we usually would be able to. We didn’t have the opportunities to participate in physical activity and we were more sedentary.”
He said it is "incredibly important that we get back on track” with exercise and healthy eating. He suggests speaking with a healthcare provider about how we can get back to safer and healthier weights.
“There’s no question that the pandemic has affected our physical health, but I would also stress that people pay attention to their mental health. It’s been a really stressful time for everybody,” added Lloyd-Jones. “We are seeing a significant rise in people reporting stress and mental health conditions.”
Those stressors, he said, can affect everything from sleep to weight gain, which can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
The American Heart Association, said Lloyd-Jones, wants to communicate that it’s safe to get back to your doctor and that it’s important to create a plan with your healthcare provider to optimize your health. He concluded by adding that the vaccines are safe and are the best way to protect ourselves and our communities.
For more information contact:
The Nebraska Heart Association: heart.org/en/affiliates/nebraska/nebraska
American Heart Association Des Moines: heart.org/en/affiliates/iowa/des-moines