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How Does COVID-19 Affect the Heart?

How Does COVID-19 Affect the Heart?

There is so much to learn about the effects that COVID-19 is having on our bodies. What we do know is that the coronavirus can have harsh, long-term effects on the heart even in those who didn’t have underlying heart disease and even after patients have recovered.

Early in the pandemic it was clear that those with underlying cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, or heart failure were at a higher risk of infection, complications and death when compared to the general population. In fact, research now shows that those with cardiovascular disease (CVD) are more than twice as likely to report more severe forms of the virus.

Experts are also finding that those who were asymptomatic, had mild symptoms, and who had no underlying heart disease are still reporting some form of cardiac injury after COVID-19. New research in JAMA Cardiology shows that 76% of COVID patients have structural heart damage, even two months later.

How does COVID-19 cause heart damage?

Temporary or lasting damage to heart tissue can be attributed to several factors:

Lack of oxygen. As the virus causes inflammation and fluid to fill up in the air sacs in the lungs, less oxygen reaches the bloodstream. The heart must work harder to pump blood through the body. This can be dangerous in people who have pre-existing heart conditions. The heart can fail due to the stress, or insufficient oxygen can cause cell death and tissue damage in the heart or other organs.

Stress cardiomyopathy. Viral infections can cause cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disorder that affects the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. When the body is attacked by a virus, its response to the stress is a release of chemicals called catecholamines, which can stun the heart. The heart can recover after the infection is gone and there is no more stress to the heart.

Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart. Heart muscle tissue can be directly infected and damaged by the coronavirus, as is possible with other viral infections, including the flu. The body’s own immune system response can indirectly cause inflammation and damage to the heart.

Those with no known pre-existing conditions who are diagnosed with COVID-19, should follow up with their primary care doctor. Notify your doctor if weakness, shortness of breath or chest pain lingers after recovery, as these problems could be from COVID-19 related damage to the heart or lungs.

People living with heart disease should stay in contact with their doctors and continue to take all prescribed medication as scheduled. Seek emergency medical attention if symptoms of a heart attack arise. Delaying emergency care for heart attacks due to fear of contracting COVID-19 at the hospital can lead to long-term serious complications.

If you need emergency care, call 911. Click here for more information about COVID-19.