Over the last year, it has been now evident that the impact of COVID-19 is way beyond influenza-like conditions. It has been realised that COVID-19 affects many more organs and not only the lungs or the respiratory tract. One such organ is the heart.
When a patient tests negative for COVID-19, the heart is reportedly affected. However, the degree in which it is affected varies from person to person, it can either be moderate or high. After their recovery many patients have reportedly rushed back to hospitals where they complained about reduced heart functions, heart attacks and strokes. Patients have further complained about varied heart rates, breathing issues and chest pain.
The reasons for heart damage, however are not the same for everyone. It can be for several reasons. Some of them are mentioned below:
- Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart): COVID-19 may directly damage the tissues in the heart muscle which cause inflammation of the heart and the condition is known as myocarditis
- Cytokine storm: when the virus attacks the body, the immune system tries to protect us by attacking the virus. This may get severe and destroy healthy tissues, this exaggerated event is known as cytokine storm
- Lack of oxygen: As mentioned above, the virus causes inflammation, post which fluids fill up in the air sacs of the lungs. This may create complications wherein less oxygen is transferred to the bloodstreams. This can also lead to heart failure in patients
- Stress cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy is a disorder that affects the heart muscle. It further causes the heart to lose its ability to pump blood due to the lack of oxygen. It can then lead to irregular heartbeats which causes stress and ultimately releases chemicals which may startle the heart
A study that was done by Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) stated that all the patients who participated in the study were healthy between the ages of 40-50. The organisation examined MRI results of over 100 COVID-19 positive patients who were based out of Frankfurt, Germany.
Of the 100 people who were examined, 67 people were ones who did not show any symptoms or had moderate symptoms. By the time the study ended, it was seen that 78 of the 100 patients said they have had symptoms of heart damage or inflammation. Therefore, it was noticed that the larger percentage of people who had reported heart problems after testing negative said that there is still a lot of things that they do not know about the long-term consequences of COVID-19.
Another study was done by a institute in UK. They found a similar pattern among patients who were infected with the virus. This study was done on 1,216 patients who tested positive for COVID-19. They spanned across six continents. The pattern that was observed is that there were heart abnormalities among them. Around 15 percent of them had severe heart problems even though they did not have any history of heart related disorders.
While there is a lot more research that needs to be done on this subject, it is important to be mindful about the impact of COVID-19 on the hearts of the patients. Hence, once a person recovers from COVID-19, they must ensure that they go for regular tests and checkups.
The author is Director, Cardiothoracic Vascular Surgery, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Okhla, New Delhi.