Photo courtesy of American Heart Association.
AHA team thanks San Diego’s volunteers.

Photo courtesy of American Heart Association. AHA team thanks San Diego’s volunteers.

Forty percent of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 have underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and history of strokes, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The mortality rates in people with these conditions are two to three times higher than in the general population, as per the American Heart Association.

With those statistics in mind, the American Heart Association has awarded $2.5 million in rapid research grants to medical institutions across the United States that will focus on how COVID-19 affects the heart and the brain.

Habits in the Community

Through the “COVID-19 Cardiovascular Impact Rapid Response Grant”, data that would typically take two to three years to gather will now be collected in one year or less, said Stacy Weaver, executive director. The goal is to understand coronavirus’ effects on these organs and, hopefully, begin the work to change potentially deadly habits in the community and beyond.

“The disproportionate ways in which COVID is attacking people with cardiovascular disease and stroke is how we know the work we are doing is important,” said Weaver. “Now, people have increased their in-home habits, with stress eating and not being physically active at this time. The results will be higher body mass index (BMI), more risk for high blood pressure and obesity. It’s just a domino effect.”

National COVID-19 Registry

AHA and the American Stroke Association have also added a COVID-19 data registry, with information collected from more than 90 hospitals including UC San Diego Health and others across the nation, that are documenting coronavirus patients. This is being done in an effort to not only understand what is helping these patients recover, she said, but also how the virus affects their health after. This aggregate data will be available for researchers from participating institutions for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory through the American Heart Association Precision Medicine Platform. That information is then transferred to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which is applying all of its research manpower toward immediate discoveries and diagnosis that will hopefully help treat COVID-19 in a proactive, and not a reactive, manner in the near future.

Robert A. Harrington, president of AHA, said it is imperative the science community finds out as much as possible on coronavirus to help reduce its impact, including in disadvantage communities.

Underserved Populations

“Several of these studies focus on disparity and underserved populations and many with pre-existing conditions and that’s critical because we’re seeing these people coming in sicker and getting sicker faster from the complications of COVID-19 and we need to understand what’s causing that and how we can help them,” Harrington said. “There’s so much we don’t know about this unique coronavirus and we continue to see emerging complications affecting both heart and brain health for which we desperately need answers and we need them quickly.”

Cardiovascular Conditions

Meanwhile, the AHA and the ASA continue to fundraise in order to further study COVID-19 and its effects on people with cardiovascular conditions. In April, AHA and ASA hosted its “Southwest Riverside County Heart & Stroke Walk” virtually, the first one to be hosted online so far, said Weaver. It reached 40,000 people on social media and had engagement of over 1,300.