Over the last 7 months it has become crystal clear that some people do not make a full recovery from COVID-19. While the majority of those infected with the virus experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever and chills, dry cough, skin rashes, and loss of sense of smell and taste for a period of a few weeks or even months, others seem to have sustained long-term damage. And, according to the nation's top heart health organization, the heart is one of the organs that is sustaining "devastating" and long-lasting damage.
The Lungs Aren't the Only Target
In a report released on Friday, the AHA points out that the respiratory virus, once thought to be most damaging to the lungs, is wreaking serious damage on the heart. They reference earlier studies finding that inflammation of the vascular system and injury to the heart are seemingly common features of this novel coronavirus, seen in 20% to 30% of hospitalized patients and contributing to 40% of deaths. They add that COVID-19 related heart damage impacts the risk of death for the virus as much if not more than other risk factors—age, diabetes mellitus, chronic pulmonary disease or prior history of cardiovascular disease —included.
"Much remains to be learned about COVID-19 infection and the heart. Although we think of the lungs being the primary target, there are frequent biomarker elevations noted in infected patients that are usually associated with acute heart injury. Moreover, several devastating complications of COVID-19 are cardiac in nature and may result in lingering cardiac dysfunction beyond the course of the viral illness itself," Mitchell S. V. Elkind, M.D., MS, FAHA, FAAN, president of the American Heart Association and attending neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, explains. "The need for additional research remains critical. We simply don't have enough information to provide the definitive answers people want and need."
One-Quarter of Those Hospitalized Have Heart Issues
Research proving the link between COVID and heart damage is overwhelming. Per the AHA, almost one quarter (23%) of all people hospitalized for COVID-19 have experienced serious cardiovascular complications. They point to studies showing that 8% to 12% of all COVID-19 patients have acute cardiac injury, and also case studies indicating COVID-19 may lead to heart attacks, acute coronary syndromes, stroke, blood pressure abnormalities, clotting issues, diffuse myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) and fatal arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). They also point to two recents studies finding heart abnormalities in patients months after recovering from the virus.
"While the incidence of these complications is not fully known, and it remains unclear how much cardiac injury is due to direct COVID-19 infection of the heart muscle or a result of immune mediated cardiac dysfunction following a profound viral illness, the virus does have a critical influence on the cardiovascular system," they write in the report. "There is concern that SARS-CoV-2 may have lasting or even delayed effects on the cardiovascular and nervous systems, a possibility that requires further investigation." As for yourself, to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.