Now, more than three years from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impacts can be seen more clearly.
For example, the rise in the number of cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, represents the largest single-year increase in CVD deaths since 2015 and topped the previous high recorded in 2003, according to the latest available data from the Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2023 Update from the American Heart Association.
The biggest increases in CVD-related deaths were seen among Asian, Black and Hispanic people, populations most impacted in the early days of the pandemic and brought into focus by increasing structural and societal disparities.
“We know COVID-19 took a tremendous toll and preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show there was a substantial increase in the loss of lives from all causes since the start of the pandemic,” said Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, American Heart Association volunteer president, who is also the Walter A. Haas-Lucie Stern Endowed Chair in Cardiology, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and admissions dean for UCSF Medical School. “That this likely translated to an increase in overall cardiovascular deaths, while disheartening, is not surprising. In fact, the Association predicted this trend, which is now official.
“COVID-19 has both direct and indirect impacts on cardiovascular health. As we learned, the virus is associated with new clotting and inflammation. We also know many people who had new or existing heart disease and stroke symptoms were reluctant to seek medical care, particularly in the early days of the pandemic. This resulted in people presenting with more advanced stages of cardiovascular conditions and needing more acute or urgent treatment for what may have been manageable chronic conditions. Sadly, this appears to have cost many their lives.”
According to Albert, who also is the director of the CeNter for the StUdy of AdveRsiTy and CardiovascUlaR DiseasE (NURTURE Center) at UCSF and a leader in health equity and adversity research, the larger increases in the number of coronary heart disease deaths among Asian, Black and Hispanic adults appear to correlate with the people most often infected with COVID-19.
“People from communities of color were among those more highly impacted, especially early on, often due to a disproportionate burden of cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension and obesity,” Albert said. “Additionally, there are socioeconomic considerations, as well as the ongoing impact of structural racism on multiple factors, including limiting the ability to access quality health care.”
To learn more about the impacts of COVID-19 on CVD, visit Heart.org/statistics.