How COVID-19 could damage your heart

May 05, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

While respiratory problems and lung injuries are the widely known complications of COVID-19, heart damage has recently emerged as another area of concern for those who contract the virus.

For many, symptoms from COVID-19 are mild to moderate. But for those more critically affected by it, COVID-19 can result in a number of complications, including difficulty breathing, lung injury and heart damage.

An article in Scientific American featured a study conducted by doctors in China of 416 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. In that study, researchers found:

  • 19 percent, or roughly 1 in 5 of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 showed signs of heart damage.
  • The disease was more fatal for those who suffered heart damage, with 51 percent of those with heart damage dying versus 4.5 percent without heart damage.
  • Those with pre-existing heart conditions were likely to show heart damage due to COVID-19, but there also were patients with no history of heart disease who showed heart damage from COVID-19. Further, those without pre-existing heart disease who developed heart damage were more likely to die than patients who had heart disease but did not have any COVID-19-induced heart damage, according to the article.

The prevalence of heart damage among COVID-19 patients is a topic of study for physicians around the globe. Doctors have turned to clinical studies and chat groups to gather more information about the virus’ effect on the heart.

Research has shown that the COVID-19 virus enters cells through a receptor on the cell surface, called ACE2. The spike-shaped protein on the virus locks into the receptor, which is found in the heart, lung and kidneys.

Those with underlying heart disease have a greater number of these receptors on the cell surface, which can lead to a greater amount of the virus particles entering the body and significantly more inflammation in the body than those without heart disease, according to an article in Science Alert.

Doctors have suggested cardiovascular complications from COVID-19 could occur in a number of ways:

  • A pre-existing heart condition. People with pre-existing heart conditions generally are at greater risk for severe complications from COVID-19, just as they are at greater risk for complications from other viruses, such as the flu.
  • Symptoms from the virus, such as fever and inflammation, can reveal a previously silent cardiovascular condition.
  • COVID-19 can attack the lungs leading to impaired gas exchange and lower blood oxygen levels, which can diminish oxygen supply to the heart muscle. This can prompt heart damage that mimics a heart attack, even in people who do not have any cardiovascular conditions or blockages.
  • Some patients who are otherwise healthy may develop inflammation of the heart muscle as a result of the virus. This can lead to heart rhythm disturbances and cardiac muscle damage.

Though more research is needed about the virus’ effect on the heart and cardiovascular system, the American Heart Association recommends heart patients who have not contracted the virus continue with their prescribed medications and continue healthy lifestyle habits including a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise.

It remains unknown if the virus will result in any long-term cardiovascular conditions. However, it is recommended if you did have cardiovascular complications as a result of the virus, that you follow-up with your physician once you are well enough to determine if any additional care is needed.

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, contact your physician’s office to determine next steps. If you experience more severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, you should seek emergency medical care.

More information about COVID-19 symptoms can be found on our symptom checker.

Get more information about coronavirus from Healthy Driven Chicago.

At Edward-Elmhurst Health, our top priority is the safety and protection of patients, staff, physicians and the community. For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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