COVID-19 infections leave an impact on the heart, raising concerns about lasting damage

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Though COVID-19 mainly affects the lungs, the virus can make it harder for human heart to function as it should.

Two new studies have been published in Germany which speak about the lasting effect on the heart of the people infected by the Covid-19. According to it, people who got infected by Covid-19, are prone to developing longterm damage on the heart even after recovery even for those patients who were not severely affected to get hospitalized.

In one study, comparisons were made between the Cardiac MRI’s of 100 people who were infected with Covid-19 against the heart images of 100 people who weren’t infected by the virus but were similar to some extent. The average age of the two groups of people was 49 and nearly two-thirds of the infected patients were treated at home. More than two months after recovery it was found out that the people infected by Covid-19 displayed troubling cardiac signs against the people in the control group. It was found that almost 60 patients displayed signs for inflammation, 78 patients displayed structural changes in their heart, and 76 patients were found to display a biomarker in their cardiac image signaling cardiac injury which is mostly found after a heart attack.

Valentina Puntmann, leading the MRI study, put light on the fact in one of her interviews that most of these patients were a young and healthy patient who had got ill in the spring. Most of the patients had recently returned from a ski vacation. None of these people weren’t aware that there was something wrong with their heart until the cardiac images results were out.

Valentina Puntmann is a Cardiologist at the University Hospital Frankfurt. In an interview, she told STAT that as 78% of the recovered people who were infected with the Covid-19 virus displayed evidence of ongoing heart problems which suggest that the Covid-19 infection does have a strong effect on the heart of the patient even if the patient does not display any serious or classical heart symptoms like anginal chest pain at the time of illness. She suggests that it is essential to take advantage of the opportunity available for taking proactive action to look out for instance of the involvement of heart at the onset of the Covid-19 illness.

In the other study, autopsy results of 39 people who had died at the start of the pandemic were analyzed. The average age of the people whose reports were being analyzed was found to be 85. On analysis, it was found that out of 39 people, 24 patients displayed high levels of viral activity within the heart.

In an interview, Dirk Westermann, Cardiologist at the University of Heart and Vascular Center in Hamburg said signs of viral replication within the heat was seen in the severely Covid-19 infected people. He further adds that the long-term consequences of this replication in gene expression are still unknown. However, such levels of increased inflammation are not known to be good as inferred from other diseases.

Both these studies have been published in the JAMA Cardiology on Monday. Collectively both these studies have suggested that Covid-19 can be a potential warning for heart failure. Heart failure is a progressive, long-term condition in which the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body is compromised. It is soon to say that whether the damage within the Covid-19 recovered people is permanent or transient; however, it is a matter of worry for the cardiologists.

Matthew Tomey is a Cardiologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. He says that both the studies point towards the fact that the chances of developing some problems involving the heart are high within a Covid-19 recovered patient. Since currently, it is difficult to pose answers for every question, it is important to ensure prompting questions related to the cardiac aftermath. Matthew Tomey was not involved in any of the two studies.

He further adds that the current question drooling the mind of the people is for how long are these changes going to persist. This after-effect on the hear within the recovered patients is going to have a long-term effect on their heart or is going to have a temporary effect on the functioning of the heart or of the effect is going to be minimized at all over time.

The connection between the Covid-19 and heart problems was discovered much later after the doctors began to research and study the connection between strokes, pulmonary embolisms, and heart attacks to the virus. Since the onset of the pandemic, people with cardiovascular problems like Coronary Artery Disease, High Blood Pressure, or Heart Failure are pre-disposed at higher risk of getting infected by Covid-19 and death.

Cardiac problems arising within the patients recovering from the Covid-19 illness can be seen as a lingering effect of the illness. Signs of weaknesses have been observed by Toomey within the patients who were suffering from Covid-19 in March and April when the disease was surging in New York.

Matthew Toomey came across with certain patients who came to his office and shared their problems. He came across one such patient who was 31 years of age and complained of not being able to climb up to his second-floor apartment without getting out of breath or getting palpitations while walking across the street who earlier used to run and do unlimited exercise. He says that the individuals vary in their capacity of doing physical exercise which is very important to understand. The main challenge lies in the fact of understanding the “why” in the difference.

Marc Pfeffer is a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston according to whom both the MRI studies and the autopsy reports pose a sign of warning. He wasn’t involved in any of the two aforementioned studies; however, he is highly concerned about the young people losing out on their cardiac health, thereby decreasing the age limit at which they are set for developing conditions for heart failure.

He further adds that this Sars-CoV-2 virus is not going to spare the heart of the infected people at any cost. There are a lot of people who are and will be suffering from the acute phase of the infection; however, its effect on the heart can be long-term.

Clyde Yancy and Gregg Fonarow are cardiologists at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, respectively. Both of them decided to investigate and research more about the problem.

According to them, if such a high rate of risk is confirmed and continues to exist, then chances for lessening the Covid-19 crisis are pretty low and instead would tend to shift to a higher and a newer rate of long-term cardiovascular complications and heart failure. They further added that they are looking forward to raising a novel and evident concern regarding the heart failure and cardiomyopathy related to Covid-19, which might potentially begin to evolve once the natural history of the infection becomes clearer.

When asked if there is something that can be done to make the situation better for the patients, Mount Sinai’s Tomey responded she would love to get an answer to this question.

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