Can COVID-19 Harm Your Heart?Coronavirus (COVID-19)
As the pandemic continues to unfold, researchers are learning more about the short-term and long-term health effects associated with COVID-19.
The virus is largely an illness of the lungs and respiratory system, but emerging evidence suggests that it may also cause heart damage in people who have recovered from the disease, including people who showed no symptoms.
Heart conditions associated with COVID-19 include inflammation and damage to the heart muscle itself, known as myocarditis, or inflammation of the covering of the heart, known as pericarditis. These conditions can occur by themselves or in combination.
There’s a lot more that needs to be studied, but it’s important to know that there’s the possibility out there that a coronavirus infection could mean development of a serious heart condition.
We want to keep you posted on the latest developments so you can make informed decisions about you and your family’s health and well-being.
What are the risks?
Since the pandemic started, experts have said that older adults and people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk for developing COVID-19. Heart damage may contribute to severe disease and death from COVID-19, especially in older people with underlying illness.
As the CDC reports, “Heart damage like this might also explain some frequently reported long-term symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, and heart palpitations.”
But recently, evidence suggests that COVID-19 can cause heart abnormalities in patients who recovered from a mild or moderate bout of COVID-19, with or with symptoms, as well as in patients who didn’t have any preexisting conditions.
What do the studies say?
In July, a study published in JAMA Cardiology jump-started global discussion about the virus’ possible effects on heart health. In that study, researchers at the University Hospital Frankfurt COVID-19 Registry in Germany examined 100 patients who were diagnosed with and recovered from COVID-19.
The clinicians scanned the hearts of 100 COVID-19 patients an average of 71 days after they had tested positive. The scans showed cardiac abnormalities in 78 people, with 60 appearing to have active inflammation.
Most patients also reported lingering symptoms, such as fatigue and mild shortness of breath.
Were the adverse heart health findings related to COVID-19? More research is needed, say the study’s researchers.
Meanwhile, a study published last month found heart damage in 1 in 7 college sports athletes who had recovered from COVID-19, including in those whose infections were asymptomatic. In that study of 26 college-age athletes, scans revealed four athletes to have inflammation of the heart muscle. Yet, again, the study’s researchers say the overall data on the matter are still unclear.
Lee Health expert
How the virus might damage heart muscle is just one question researchers continue to study.
Dr. Stephanie Stovall, infection prevention medical director with Lee Health, says vigilance remains a top priority of the health system.
“We continue to have frequent medical staff educational updates that provide new information from all across the globe to ensure that we are following the newest guidelines and recommendations,” Dr. Stovall says. “Lee Health’s commitment toward ensuring patient safety and an exceptional patient experience remains a top priority.”
Nearly one-fourth of people hospitalized with COVID-19 have been diagnosed with cardiovascular complications, which have been shown to contribute to roughly 40 percent of all COVID-19-related deaths, according to the American Heart Association.
Other studies are following people during and after acute illness to learn how common heart inflammation is after COVID-19, how long it lingers, and whether it responds to specific treatments.
For now, experts agree it’s too early to know for sure how COVID-19 affects the heart and other organs in some people who have had the virus. But research continues, and Lee Health remains vigilant in its quest to help all the patients in Southwest Florida.