NEW YORK (WABC) -- New research confirms that there has been a substantial increase in the rate of heart disease and stroke death in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All racial and ethnic groups suffered higher rates of heart disease and stroke death from 2019 to 2020, with the increases in deaths ranging from 2.3% to 11.9% depending on the cause of death and racial/ethnic groups.
The increases were highest among Black Americans, then Hispanic/Latinos, followed by Asian/Pacific Islanders and whites.
American Heart Association President Donald Lloyd-Jones said the findings are a "red flag warning," and that this disturbing trend will likely continue for years to come.
He said the findings reinforce the need for doctors and everyday people to take steps to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve lifestyle behaviors.
"We'd made tremendous progress in those areas over the last two decades but have seen much of that progress go out the window since COVID-19 hit," Lloyd-Jones said.
The findings were published in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA and came as no surprise to long haul COVID patient Kim Kenny.
"I was out of breath all the time, my chest was really tight," Kenny said. "My blood vessels were injured, so they're having a hard time getting oxygen to move around."
The medical term for Kenny's injured blood vessels is called Systematic Vascular Resistance, and it's what she's had to deal with for the last two years after she had COVID-19.
"Right now I'm 26," she said. "When I started this, I was 25. Like, you don't want to be on heart medication at 25. It seems kind of crazy."
The AHA said that from 2019 to 2020, the estimated age-adjusted mortality rate increased by 15.9%, largely due to COVID-19.
WATCH | Dr. Evelina Grayver weighs in on alarming spike in heart disease
"There's concern with it," Kenny said. "I kind of had that inkling early on when I got COVID and I was like, we don't know what this means later in life...so it doesn't really surprise me to hear it and already having cardiovascular issues."
The warning applies to COVID patients and long haulers alike, at 4.3% higher risk of heart disease and 6.4% higher risk of stroke.
"This is a different type of presentation of COVID or different consequence of either the initial COVID infection or the long COVID syndrome," said Dr. David Lander, Associate Director of Cardiology at Hackensack University Medical Center.
After a year of suffering shortness of breath, a tight chest aches and fatigue, Kenny didn't hesitate to join a clinical trial at overseen by Dr. Landers on various treatments the from heart and blood vessel disorders that stem from COVID.
"Mine are expected to go away, so that's good," she said. "The hope is that once this goes away, it's not problematic for me. It's good to just know that it's something to keep an eye on later in life."
Lloyd-Jones handout video HERE.
Full study HERE.