MILD COVID & SEVERE COMPLICATIONS
The causal link between increased risk of developing heart problems and respiratory infections, like Influenza and Swine Flu, is well established. But as more and more research on the impacts of long COVID continues to be published, a bleak picture is being painted for even mild COVID cases.
Research evaluating the long-term impacts of COVID disease on the cardiovascular system, published in Nature, found that even mild COVID greatly increases the risk of heart problems one year after infection.
From the 153,760 COVID patients studied, researchers found a 63% increase in heart problems after infection, compared to the control group. Some of them even suffered strokes and heart failure, according to the study.
Larisa Tereshchenko, a cardiologist and biostatistician at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, believes the latest research suggests the risks of long term cardiovascular impacts of COVID may be “on par with those from smoking.”
These longer-term impacts on the cardiovascular system are mainly caused by inflammation, which can lead to developing myocarditis, or pericarditis, among a range of other heart issues.
MILD COVID IMPACTS: RESEARCHERS REACT
“I went into this assuming there was going to be some risk but primarily in people who had very severe disease and needed to be hospitalized in the acute phase of the infection,” Ziyad Al-Aly, co-author of the study, told Scientific American.
Al-Aly added, “It is not only surprising but also profoundly consequential that the risk is evident even in those [who had mild infections].” As the majority of COVID cases are mild in nature, Al-Aly said “That’s what makes this likely a serious public health problem.”
Longer-term impacts and risks on the cardiovascular system are still misunderstood. So further research is needed before determining why so many cases are experiencing these effects on the heart.
One theory is that SARS-CoV-2 is able to directly infect the heart muscle, however, this remains mostly unsubstantiated. But viral infections, like SARS-CoV-2, are linked to “acute coronary syndromes, arrhythmias, and development of exacerbation of heart failure,” according to research.
OTHER CAUSES OF HEART PROBLEMS
Erin Donnelly Michos, Director of Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Associate Professor of Medicine at John Hopkins, says “There are multiple mechanisms for heart damage in COVID-19, and not everyone’s the same.” So what else might be causing these heart problems?
As the COVID-19 virus causes inflammation and fluid to fill in the lungs, less oxygen can reach the bloodstream. This leads to increased stress on the heart, increasing the risk for those with pre-existing heart conditions.
Moreover, another condition called “stress cardiomyopathy” may also be responsible for the increasing rate of reported cardiovascular issues linked to COVID infection. Cardiomyopathy is when the heart muscle is damaged and becomes weak so the muscle can no longer pump blood efficiently.
COVID-19 symptoms can even “mimic” a heart attack, according to John Hopkins. Michos said, “In many of these COVID-19 cases when these patients are given an angiogram, there is no evidence of a major blockage in the heart’s blood vessels, which would indicate a heart attack in progress.”
Doctors and researchers are now urging governments to include COVID-19 in the list of recognised risk factors for heart problems. Similar to high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.