More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are beginning to better understand the virus.
With more people receiving vaccinations and a decrease in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths, there is a strong sense of optimism that the worst is behind us and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But there are still many lingering questions for those who have recovered from the initial viral infection but may be dealing with long-term aftereffects. Cardiac issues in particular, have been reported in some, including professional athletes. Dr. Khether Raby, a cardiologist at MelroseWakefield Hospital, offers four things to know about COVID-19 and your heart.
- We are not yet completely sure of COVID-19’s long-term effects on the heart. The majority of people with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and recover fully. Doctors and researchers will be studying the long-term effects of COVID-19 on several different organs, including the heart, for years to come. “At this point, there is a lot of speculation about how COVID affects the heart,” said Dr. Raby. “In the coming months and years that picture will become much more clear as we follow the outcomes and changing medical history of those who have had the virus.” Reports of individuals, including professional athletes, suffering from myocarditis have raised particular concerns, but we just don’t know what the long-term prognosis will be for those individuals.
- All viruses can affect the heart. “COVID-19 is a virus and all viruses, even the flu, can affect the heart,” said Dr. Raby. “Inflammation is a way for the heart to fight off a virus, so we are not surprised to see it to some degree, when the virus is present. When the immune system overreacts to the infection, the heart can get inflamed – a condition known as myocarditis. We know that roughly five percent of patients with COVID-19 will end up with some form of myocarditis as they fight the active virus.”There is a similar condition, known as pericarditis, in which the lining of the heart gets inflamed. We are seeing traces of both of these conditions with COVID patients, but the vast majority have shown a complete recovery.
- COVID-19 is unique in some ways. Where COVID is unique is how it affects blood vessels. COVID-19-related inflammation can disrupt the lining of the blood vessels, reducing the ability to resist blood clot formation. “Once blood clots begin forming in the arteries, they can cut off the supply of oxygen to the heart, ultimately causing a heart attack or other damage to the heart,” said Dr. Raby.
- Know your risks and live a healthy lifestyle. According to Dr. Raby, prevention is the most important thing you can do to protect your heart and health.
“We should all be doing our best to avoid COVID-19,” said Dr. Raby. “This includes social distancing, wearing a face mask and frequent, thorough handwashing. I strongly encourage everyone to receive the vaccine when they are eligible.”
Regarding heart health, knowing your risks and maintaining a healthy heart gives you added protection in the event that you do contract a virus. Men over 50 and women over 55, smokers, and individuals with diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol or a family history of heart issues are at greater risk. If you fall into one of these categories, you should be seeing a doctor regularly.