American Heart Association President Offers Health Tips After Pandemic Delays

As COVID-19 vaccinations become more widespread, people who have put off seeing a doctor during the pandemic are now significantly more likely to seek care. The president of the American Heart Association, the leading voluntary organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives, says it’s a good time to check in with your doctors to take stock of your overall health along with any chronic conditions you may have like high blood pressure or diabetes.

“There were many patients who were hesitant to come anywhere near the hospital, clinic or doctor’s office for some time,” said Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., FAHA, professor of Preventive Medicine, Medicine and Pediatrics and chair of Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, who became president of the American Heart Association in July. “I certainly encourage patients to come in to make sure we’re addressing all their health issues.”

Recently, only 19% of U.S. adults reported delaying or not getting medical care in the prior four weeks because of the pandemic, according to the CDC’s latest Household Pulse Survey conducted between June 23 and July 5, 2021. That’s a marked decline from 45% of respondents reporting pandemic-related delays in the same period last year.

For those still hesitating to seek care, Lloyd-Jones assures them it’s safe to come back.

“We have plans to keep you and our medical staff safe, even during a pandemic. Health for you and for our team is always our number one priority,” he said.

As people return to in-person medical visits, Lloyd-Jones offers the following tips:

Leave the shame at home. Many people experienced a COVID backslide with their health status. ”Stress took a toll on all of us, and our lives and routines were turned upside down. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here,” Lloyd-Jones said. “The key is—let’s move forward together.”

Track your body metrics. Leading up to your appointment, start measuring and documenting your daily weight, blood pressure (if you have a home blood pressure machine), blood sugar levels (for those with diabetes), etc. “Even if it’s been a while since you’ve tracked your body metrics, providing recent measurements will help your doctor determine if there have been significant changes,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Bring a list of questions. Writing down your questions in advance on everything from COVID-19 vaccination and preventing a stroke to that health tip your neighbor gave you will help make the most of your time together with your health care professional. “There’s no such thing as an embarrassing or bad question at your doctor’s office,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Make an action plan with your doctor. “Doctors are here to help,” Lloyd-Jones said. Together, patients and their health care providers can discuss how to get to a healthier place and make a plan for how to get there.

Set realistic goals. We’ve spent the last 17 months managing the stress of the pandemic. Incorporating new healthy habits—or reinstating pre-pandemic ones—isn’t going to happen overnight. “Keep in mind that small, consistent habits can add up to big changes over time,” Lloyd-Jones said.

Pay close attention to any symptom changes. If you’ve experienced any new symptoms—physically or mentally—don’t wait to see your doctor. “New chest pain symptoms in particular are always a red flag,” Lloyd-Jones said. “That’s something we want to know about and see you about ASAP.”

Lloyd-Jones also emphasizes that if your medications don’t seem to be working as well or you can’t afford them, call your doctor right away and let them know what’s going on so they can help you.

“Our goal, like yours, is to make sure you’re getting the care you need to live your longest, healthiest life possible,” Lloyd-Jones said.

If you don’t have a primary care office or if unemployment has impacted your access to health care, resources like Federally Qualified Health Centers and Community Health Centers can help.

For more tips on getting back to the doctor and reclaiming your health, visit http://www.heart.org/callyourdoctor.

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