As the world starts to return to normal following the pandemic, it’s important for anyone who suffered from COVID-19, even a mild case, to listen to their heart.
Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States with roughly one person dying every 36 seconds from it. Sadly, that number is expected to increase following the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CTVS board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. W. Chance Conner says this increase can be attributed to two things.
“Many people with heart problems did not seek medical attention last year out of fear of going to hospitals, or their surgical treatments were delayed, so we have been seeing a new wave of cardiovascular issues,” says Dr. Conner. “Secondly, we are just now beginning to realize the negative effects on the heart of those who contracted the virus.”
What effect does COVID-19 have on the heart?
Even though a patient who suffered from COVID may not have had underlying heart issues prior to the virus, or even any related cardiac symptoms while infected, mounting research shows that the heart can potentially be impacted. According to the American Heart Association, an estimated one-fourth of patients hospitalized with COVID were later diagnosed with heart complications.
Dr. Conner says the heart muscle itself can become stressed and function at a reduced capacity, often resulting in a condition known as non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. Symptoms of this might include shortness of breath, fatigue, exhaustion, lower leg swelling, and arrhythmias (electrical disturbances) that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
Another common cardiac condition reportedly resulting from COVID is myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which could also mean an increased risk for heart failure. A study from JAMA Cardiology evaluated cardiac MRIs on 100 people who had recovered from COVID-19 with results showing abnormalities in the hearts of 78% of the patients and a further 60% experiencing ongoing myocardial inflammation.
For those recovering from COVID-19, Dr. Conner advises them to be aware of any irregular heart symptoms that may suddenly arise–such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or heart palpitations–and then be vigilant about seeing your doctor.
How can you ensure your heart health after COVID?
Dr. Conner and our cardiothoracic experts at CTVS recommend the following tips to keep your heart healthy after recovering from COVID:
- Undergo a cardiac screening and examination (including an Electrocardiogram/ECG and Echocardiography/ultrasound) to establish a medical heart history.
- If any parts of the screening are abnormal, follow your physician’s advice for regular heart monitoring, and check with him or her before returning to high intensity activities.
- Focus your efforts on heart healthy living with frequent exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding tobacco products. Also, be sure to keep other conditions in check like high blood pressure or cholesterol and diabetes.
If you are recovering or have recovered from COVID-19 and have questions pertaining to your health, contact your primary care physician. For questions about your heart health, please visit ctvstexas.com or call us at (512) 459-8753 to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified specialists.