Everyone is now familiar with the symptoms of COVID-19. However, COVID's effects on heart health is often overlooked. Gerard Abate has 14 years of experience as a cardiologist. He wants to spread the word about COVID-19's effects on the heart.
Higher Risk for Severe Illness
Heart conditions don't increase the risk of contracting Covid. However, they do increase the risk of severe illness. Conditions that increase risk include heart failure, coronary artery disease, and cardiomyopathies. High blood pressure may increase the risk of severe illness as well, but more research is needed in this area.
Gerard Abate states that there are two reasons why those with heart conditions are at a higher risk of severe illness. Essentially, heart conditions make the body more vulnerable to the effects of illness, including fever, low oxygen levels, and changes in blood pressure.
The other factor is metabolic conditions. There are five metabolic risk factors. The more risk factors a person has, the higher their chances of having one or more heart conditions.
Metabolic risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, low LDL cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, and high fasting blood sugar. These conditions can cause inflammation and increase the risk of blood clots.
How Covid Affects the Heart
One way Covid affects the heart is myocarditis or inflammation of the heart. In some cases, the covid virus enters the heart, causing direct inflammation.
Gerard Abate says heart inflammation can also occur due to a cytokine storm. About 5% of Covid patients develop severe disease, which induces a cytokine storm. Essentially, the body's immune system overreacts. It releases inflammatory molecules known as cytokines. Cytokines can damage organs, including the heart.
Severe heart inflammation causes an enlarged and weakened heart, which leads to fluid build-up in the lungs and low blood pressure. However, asymptomatic myocarditis is much more common.
A recent study has found 75% of patients who had severe Covid-19 illness have asymptomatic myocarditis.
Heart damage can also occur due to the stress the illness places on the heart. 20% of covid patients develop pneumonia. The fever and infection of the illness cause the heart rate to increase, which increases how hard the heart works. The body has increased demand for oxygen because the lungs aren't functioning properly, which also puts strain on the heart.
Long Term Damage After Mild Illness
Gerard Abate explains that those who have mild Covid-19 illness are also at a risk for lasting damage. A JAMA study performed cardiac MRIs on 100 patients, most of whom were not sick enough to require hospitalization.
78% had heart abnormalities, and 60% had myocardial inflammation. Blood tests revealed troponin, an enzyme that indicates heart damage, in 76% of patients.
The study was conducted 2 to 3 months after the patients recovered from illness, suggesting the potential for long-term heart damage, even after a mild illness.