Because of its commonly recognized respiratory symptoms — heavy coughing and difficulty breathing — the most severely damaged part of the body following a bout of COVID-19 was thought to be the lungs, until now.
A small study recently conducted in Germany and profiled in JAMA-Cardiology reveals that the effects of COVID-19 on the heart following recovery could be quite damaging.
The study monitored the cardiovascular health of 100 patients who contracted the virus and subsequently recovered from it. Via Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging evaluation of these patients, it was discovered that the cardiac effects following COVID-19 may be:
- Hard to detect, asymptomatic
- Not fully developed until many months later
Heart damage was detected in 78 of the 100 study participants, and myocarditis was found in 60 of those patients. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to cardiac arrest if left untreated.
According to CTVS board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. W. Chance Conner, “Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging (CMR) is a very sensitive exam detecting heart muscle edema, inflammation, and scar tissue. As such, given almost 80% of recovered patients in this study demonstrated abnormal findings on CMR months after diagnosis (of COVID-19), and that is worrisome.”
Results of this study are not only worrisome to physicians, but they have even caught the eye of those in the sports community as well, where world-class athletes who have recovered from COVID-19 have been reporting similar heart issues such as those described in this new research. A recent story for ESPN explains how several college football players were diagnosed with myocarditis following their encounters with the virus.
Athletes looking to start their fall sports seasons and who have tested positive for COVID-19 may be subject to additional cardiovascular monitoring to ensure their heart is not under any additional undue stress other than that from their regular routine of intense physical activity.
What does this mean for our CTVS patients currently being treated for heart conditions who have recovered from COVID-19?
Dr. Conner says that patients should stay in constant communication with their doctors. Developing a plan for regular heart monitoring and cardiovascular checks in the months following exposure to the virus is also a good idea so that any new abnormalities can be detected and addressed as soon as possible. For those patients facing surgery (such as implanting ventricular assist technologies or receiving a transplant), extra precautions will be taken to minimize the risk of reinfection and jeopardizing the heart further.