Many patients have asked us about the connection between COVID19 and their heart health. In a growing number of studies, such a connection has been firmly established. In fact, many COVID19 survivors have experienced some type of heart damage, even without underlying heart disease and even if they weren’t sick enough for hospitalization. These findings have many health care experts concerned about the potential increase in heart health issues and even heart failure or heart attack due to COVID19.
Since very early in this pandemic, it’s been clear that many COVID19 patients who were hospitalized showed evidence of heart damage. More recently, medical experts recognized that some COVID19 patients who were not hospitalized still experienced cardiac injury. There may be individuals who overcame the initial infection but were left with cardiovascular damage and related complications. Complications such as myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, could lead to an increase in heart failure later on. Nearly 25 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID19 have been diagnosed with cardiovascular complications. These have been shown to contribute to approximately 40 percent of all COVID19-related deaths.
Although COVID19 is primarily a respiratory/lung disease, a recent German research study found that 78 percent of recovered COVID19 patients, most of whom had only mild to moderate symptoms, showed heart health issues more than two months after their initial diagnoses. Approximately 60 percent were found to have persistent myocardial inflammation. Patients diagnosed with myocarditis often experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, arrhythmias, fever and fatigue. Some have no symptoms at all.
Several factors can cause either temporary or lasting damage to heart tissue. These include:
Oxygen deficiency: COVID19 causes inflammation and fluid to fill air sacs in the lungs, which means that less oxygen can reach the bloodstream. An oxygen-depleted heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body. This can be dangerous in patients with pre-existing heart disease. The human heart can fail from overwork, or from insufficient oxygen, which can cause cell death, fatigue and tissue damage in the heart muscle and other organs.
Myocarditis: The coronavirus may infect, inflame and damage the heart’s muscle tissue directly. The human body’s own immune system response may also cause heart damage, scarring and inflammation.
Stress cardiomyopathy: COVID19 and other viral infections can cause cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disorder that impedes the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively. When attacked by a virus such as COVID19, the body experiences stress and releases a surge of chemicals called catecholamines. These chemicals can stun the heart and lead to a heart attack.