COVID-19 May Cause Heart Problems in Those Who Had None Before, Coronavirus Study Finds

COVID-19 has been linked to heart problems even in those without preexisting cardiovascular conditions, according to a review of existing scientific studies. The authors of the paper published in the journal JAMA Cardiology looked at research on the new coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19, as well on the seasonal flu, and other members of the coronavirus family: SARS and MERS.

They found COVID-19 may either cause new heart problems or worsen underlying issues. COVID-19 was associated with heart inflammation and there was a "high prevalence" of cardiac injury in patients hospitalized with the disease.

But the team noted "the severity, extent, and short-term vs long-term cardiovascular effects of COVID-19, along with the effect of specific treatments are not yet known, and are subject to close scrutiny and investigation."

Patients with milder COVID-19 cases who don't need hospitalization are less likely to encounter heart problems, they believe.

"It is reasonable to expect that severe and critical cases have more severe effects on the cardiovascular system owing to more robust inflammatory response," they wrote.

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A medical volunteer dressed in a protective suit, mask, gloves and goggles stands in a tent set up near a medical practice to test people for COVID-19 on March 27, 2020 in Berlin. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The three coronaviruses and the flu seemed to trigger heart problems including acute coronary syndrome (where the blood flow to the heart suddenly stops like in a heart attack), issues with heart rate, and heart failure. This is likely due to a combination of inflammation across the body as well as in the vascular system, the scientists explained.

"Importantly, during most influenza epidemics, more patients die of cardiovascular causes than pneumonia-influenza causes," the authors wrote.

The authors acknowledged the work was limited because it was based on the available data at the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, and mild and asymptomatic cases are likely missing from most reports "which further skews our understanding of the disease.

Lead author Dr. Mohammad Madjid, an assistant professor at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston said in a statement, "It is likely that even in the absence of previous heart disease, the heart muscle can be affected by coronavirus disease.

"Overall, injury to [the] heart muscle can happen in any patient with or without heart disease, but the risk is higher in those who already have heart disease."

Madjid told Newsweek, "We know very well that COVID-19 affects the lung and can cause complications, but this study shows that the cardiovascular system is also affected and its involvement can lead to poor outcomes and prognosis in these patients."

Madjid envisions the study will help researchers identify which patients are at risk of complications, and find new treatments for them.

He advised those with heart problems worried about COVID-19 to consult their cardiologist and "make sure you are compliant with all medications prescribed for you."

Over half a million people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide according to Johns Hopkins University and shown in the map by Statista below. Over 25,250 people have died, and almost 128,000 have recovered.

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A map by Statista showing the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide as of March 26. Statista

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

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