Why Heart Patients Should Be Cautious About COVID-19 Treatment with Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin

It’s likely that your news feed is bombarded with information about the novel coronavirus right now, and it can seem overwhelming. If you’ve paid attention, then you’ve likely seen a lot of discussion about hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. Although this can seem like good news, it’s extremely important to take a second look at this if you’re a heart patient since it can have a huge impact on your health if you wind up needing medical intervention for COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus outbreak and how to keep yourself (and your heart) healthy.

What are hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin? Why are they used for COVID-19?

Hydroxychloroquine (brand name: Plaquenil) is a medication commonly used to treat malaria, as well as conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It isn’t fully understood how it works to treat certain conditions outside of malaria, but it’s currently being repurposed in COVID-19 patients. On the other hand, azithromycin (brand name: Zithromax) is an antibiotic medication sometimes used to treat bacterial infections of the respiratory system like bronchitis and pneumonia.

With hydroxychloroquine especially, it’s important to know that use for COVID-19 is considered off-label and that there has only been anecdotal success in the few trials that are underway. Despite this, many news outlets have pushed it as a miracle drug for the treatment of COVID-19 when, in reality, we don’t have definitive results yet.

Why are they dangerous for heart patients?

Both drugs come with serious side effects for patients with heart conditions like cardiovascular disease. Some of these complications include severe electrical irregularities with the heart, arrhythmia issues, and even an increased risk of sudden death. This is especially dangerous when paired with the effects of COVID-19 itself which can cause respiratory distress and low blood oxygen levels.

What should I do if I’m infected?

If you’re a heart patient who shows symptoms of COVID-19, you should speak with your regular physician right away. Fortunately, the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Heart Rhythm Society have laid out guidelines for caring for COVID-19 patients who have cardiovascular considerations when it comes to using these two medications. If you are unable to see your regular physician, then make sure to outline your heart considerations with your medical provider when looking at your treatment options.

The best way to protect your heart health is to avoid infection by following the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines like frequent handwashing, staying home, and practicing social distancing. According to the CDC, patients with heart conditions are especially at risk for COVID-19 complications so it’s extremely important to take the right steps.

Schedule an Appointment

It’s important to partner with a heart rhythm specialist to make sure you’re getting the important care you need. At the Heart Rhythm Institute of Arizona, we’re offering virtual consultations so you can get in touch with a heart rhythm specialist from your home with any questions you have about how to manage the coronavirus outbreak. To learn more and schedule a consultation, we invite you to contact us by filling out our online form.

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Dr. Beshai is a board-certified electrophysiologist internationally renowned and respected for his expertise and research. Having published in major medical journals and travelled all over the world to present research, he is dedicated to providing innovative, state-of-the-art care to his patients.