How Can COVID-19 Affect The Heart?

COVID-19 Heart, Brain, And Lungs GraphicA lot is still unknown about the COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus that has upended the lives of people across the globe. After months of experience battling the pandemic, what we do know is that between 10 and 25 percent of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 have cardiac damage. The Myocarditis Foundation is dedicated to helping advance the research into understanding exactly how and why COVID-19 can affect the heart in some patients so that these individuals can have access to effective life-saving treatments as soon as possible.

Pre-Existing Heart Conditions vs. COVID-19-Related Heart Complications

As is the case with all respiratory viruses, some people are at higher risk of serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. Along with advanced age, having an underlying heart condition may be a risk factor for serious COVID-19 illness. As this is a novel coronavirus, a lot more research needs to be conducted in order to fully understand the risk factors.

According to Dr. Leslie T. Cooper, Chair, Enterprise Department of Cardiovascular Medicine for Mayo Clinic and the Executive Medical Director and founder of the Myocarditis Foundation, the majority of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 with heart issues are those who are older and have a pre-existing heart condition.

“There are, however, a significant number, though still a minority, of patients who are otherwise healthy and experiencing heart-related complications, including myocarditis,” Dr. Cooper said. “Some hospitalized patients develop an acute COVID-19 cardiovascular syndrome, which encompasses a variety of clinical presentations, including arrhythmias and heart failure.”

Dr. Cooper is a co-author of an article published on June 9, 2020, in Circulation that describes the clinical presentations and key manifestations for acute coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cardiovascular syndrome (ACovCS).

“The driving factors behind acute systolic heart failure are still uncertain. However, cytokine activation appears to be a prominent factor in severe cases of COVID-19 and ACovCS,” said Dr. Cooper.

Treatment of COVID-19 and Heart Syndromes

Because of the relatively limited data on cardiac damage in patients with COVID-19, the best practices for treatment combine what is known from studies of non-COVID-19 cases and the latest research being conducted on COVID-19.

First and foremost, if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should be on the lookout for symptoms that may indicate heart complications. These symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, or heart palpitations. If you experience any of these symptoms or feel like you may pass out, you or a loved one should immediately contact your healthcare provider. These symptoms may indicate myocarditis, which is one of the potential factors for developing ACovCS.

If your doctor diagnoses you with COVID-19-related myocarditis it is best to refrain from competitive sports for a period of 3 to 6 months. After 3 months, you should have an exam and exercise treadmill test as well as other tests indicated for myocarditis. For other heart problems, your doctor will likely prescribe treatment based on non-COVID-19 protocols for the specific heart condition.

As COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, there are clinical trials that you may be eligible to enroll in as part of your treatment. Studies into antiviral therapies, immunosuppressive therapies, and the use of convalescent plasma from recovered patients with COVID-19 are currently ongoing. Participation in these studies may help you with your recovery and serve to improve the medical community’s ability to develop effective life-saving treatments.

Learn More about COVID-19 and the Heart

A majority of people with COVID-19 recover fully or have no symptoms at all. But, for those who are hospitalized, severe symptoms may include heart-related problems, such as heart failure, arrhythmias, acute myocardial injury without obstructive CAD, acute coronary syndrome, pericardial effusion, and thromboembolic complications – collectively known as ACovCS. The Myocarditis Foundation supports research related to COVID-19 and the heart. Contact us today to learn more about how we’re working to advance our understanding of COVID-19 and ACovCS and how you can get involved.