Cardiovascular Compromise: Return to a Full Tank of Gas After COVID-19

By Matthew O’Connor, PT, DPT, Ken Tran, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, and Victor Wei, PT, DPT, CSCS

The phrase “what a year it’s been!” is getting a little overused at this point. Our colleague Matthew O’Connor perfectly highlighted our gained experiences and broadened perspectives after working in the acute hospital setting. That experience happened in the spring, but it might as well have been three years ago. Now that the first surge is behind us, we’re looking to provide some clarity to what people can do to maximize their recovery from COVID-19, whether they spent it in the hospital or at home.

By now, it’s well understood that COVID-19 is associated with high morbidity and mortality largely due to respiratory failure. As we learn more about the virus, we now understand that it exacts a heavy toll on the cardiovascular system, as well. That can include anything from general fatigue and shortness of breath to decreased blood oxygen levels and an increase risk of blood clots. Our cardiovascular system is crucial in providing the nourishment and fuel for brain and muscles to function normally.

COVID-19 has a devastating effect on our lungs, which typically reduces our blood oxygen saturation. Think of it like your body’s gas tank: if you don’t have the oxygen to run it, your energy doesn’t last very long. This reduction in oxygen makes it difficult to think straight, but it also makes getting up from the couch feel like running a marathon.

Oxygen is one of the most important resources our body needs to create the very building blocks of energy within our body. When we become less active, our body goes into “conservation mode” and starts storing excess energy in the form of fatty tissue, leading to less available energy to work with. So with COVID-19 we have our energy stores devastated, and because it’s so taxing to move, we do it less — so our energy stores get lower, so we do less, and so on and so forth. Which leaves two big questions: What can we do to physically recover from the virus, and how do we make our bodies more resilient to its damaging effects?

Physical therapists have the education and training to monitor a patient’s vitals, including their blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and blood pressure, to make all physical work as productive as possible toward the goal of recovering. At Emerson Hospital’s Clough Family Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies, the COVID-19 Recovery Program is ready to help people recover, return to their normal, and improve their overall quality of life!

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Matt O'Connor, DPT, PT, and Kristen Wood, PT, join our Health Works Here podcast to talk about how Emerson's COVID-19 Recovery Program helps people regain their physical and cognitive abilities.

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