BILLINGS - The stress revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with more time at home, can cause people to become more susceptible to severe complications associated with the virus.
Dr. Geoffrey Williams, Billings Clinic medial director for the collaborative science and innovations unit, said Tuesday morning that he spends two days a week seeing patients at the clinic, working with them to understand the risks associated with cardiovascular disease.
“It’s the disease that we are most likely to get in our lifetime. About 45 to 50 percent of us will have a heart attack or stroke in our lifetime,” said Williams.
Williams also works with patients who are struggling with high cholesterol, which he says accounts for half of the reported heart attacks around the world.
He says that when we are born, cholesterol-related plaque builds in the arteries as we age, and some people build this plaque at a faster rate due to genetics or medical factors.
This is particularly important now, due to the nature of COVID-19.
Williams says that these risk factors, along with high blood pressure, obesity and smoking, expose people to more severe cases and complications with COVID.
Williams says health experts already know that wearing a mask and social distancing will reduce the risks of contracting the virus. But if you do catch it, implementing some lifestyle changes can help to lower chances of severe complications or death, he said.
He says that consistently checking your blood pressure, addressing high cholesterol through diet and statin medications, and getting more exercise are a few ways to fight off some of the worst complications.
“Go to your primary care doctor. Talk with them about your cardiovascular risk and see what you can do to get yourself in better shape in case you happen to get infected,” said Williams.
Williams said diet can aid in reducing risks.
“If you are eating a heart-healthy diet, we see probably half as many cancers. As well as, we see 80 percent fewer strokes and heart attacks with regular physical activity,” said Williams.
Williams said that a factor that is still being researched- but he predicts will reduce the risks of severe COVID complications and other medical ailments- is quitting smoking and other tobacco products.
“There (are) a lot of diseases that people may not be aware of that are associated with smoking. Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by smoking, as is tuberculosis. Getting away from tobacco in all forms improves people’s length of life and quality of life,” said Williams.
Williams said that the vast majority of diseases people get are preventable and preventing those may aid in preventing COVID-19 related deaths and complications.
The research on the correlation between these preventative measure and the COVID-19 virus is still being conducted.