What our Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) Patients Should Know About COVID-19

Kristina Kudelko, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Pulmonary Medicine, Stanford Medicine

What is COVID-19?

“COVID-19” is the name of the illness caused by the new coronavirus “SARS-CoV-2.” There are many human coronaviruses, most of which cause mild infections. While most COVID-19 infections are mild, some symptoms can be serious, leading to pneumonia and in some cases death.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include sore throat, cough, fever, fatigue and, in more severe cases, difficulty breathing, which requires oxygen supplementation and hospitalization. In the most extreme cases, patients may need a mechanical ventilator (breathing machine) to support them through their illness.

Symptoms can occur between two and 14 days after infection.

How does the virus spread?

Officials are still learning about how COVID-19 spreads, but the national Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) believes it spreads between people in three ways:

  • From close contact with people who have it
  • From respiratory droplets that become airborne when someone who sneezes or coughs nearby
  • From touching our mouths, noses or eyes after touching a surface that has the virus on it

Does my pulmonary hypertension (PH) affect my chances of getting sick?

Yes. Unfortunately, based on available data, patients infected with COVID-19 are more likely to progress to severe and even fatal disease if they are older and if they have other medical conditions, such as PH.

How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

The CDC recommends these general practices to help prevent spreading viruses:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Why are we required to “shelter-in-place?”

COVID-19 has proven to be highly infectious. Even completely asymptomatic people infected with the virus can spread the disease.

One of the most important ways to protect yourself from contracting the illness is to keep your distance from other people, i.e. abide by the rules of “social distancing.”

You and/or your housemates should only leave your home for essential items like groceries and medications. If you must go out, keep at least 6 feet away from other people as much as possible.

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Currently, the preferred screening test is a nasopharyngeal swab. This is a device similar to an extended cotton swab. The cotton end is inserted deep into your nose for several seconds in order to collect the specimen.

Testing is performed by a licensed health care provider at a designated COVID-19 testing center. Please contact your primary health care team for more information.

What do I do if I develop symptoms?

Call your primary health care team.

They will be able to provide you with a plan of action which includes advice on:

  • Symptom management
  • The potential need for evaluation via video clinic visit or your local emergency room
  • Whether or not you should be tested for COVID-19

What do I need to do now?

  • Stay calm and plan for your health and safety.
  • Follow the guidelines above. Please refer to the Stanford Medicine COVID-19 Updates or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 (CDC) resource page for further information.
  • Ensure you have at least a 30-day supply of all your medications (including your oxygen supply) at all times. Take your medications as prescribed.
  • Follow your county and state public safety mandates like “shelter-in-place.”
  • Stay as active as possible. Try to keep up your usual level of activity, albeit indoors.
  • Eat well! As always, avoid salt. This can be hard when you are ordering in meals and groceries but our goal is to keep you out of the hospital.
  • Maintain a routine. Structure is important especially while largely confined to our homes. Try to keep a normal sleep schedule.
  • Read books, learn a language, paint, knit, draw, journal. Stay in touch with family, friends (and your PH health care team!) via phone and email. Let them (and us) know how you are doing.

We are here for you!

Stay well.