When people think of COVID-19, they often think about it as a severe respiratory disease, causing coughing fits and shortness of breath. But, clinicians now say that COVID-19 may have long-lasting and serious effects on cardiovascular health.
Dr. Michael S. Chen, chair of cardiology for Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center and director of the cardiac cath lab at Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center , explains how the virus can damage a person’s heart:
Q: What are the ways COVID-19 can affect a person’s heart?
A: COVID can have a multitude of effects on the heart. It can result in heart attacks and heart failure. The disease can also result in palpitations, which is a sense of extra heart beats, skipped beats or fast heart beats. Sometimes these palpitations can be dangerous, abnormal heart rhythms. Another effect is myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle.
Q: Why does the coronavirus cause problems with the heart?
A: Coronavirus is known to cause a prothrombotic state. This means that a person is more likely to form clots in the arteries or veins of the body. This can lead to a heart attack.
The body’s inflammatory response to COVID, if it gets out of control, can result in myocarditis. COVID is well known to cause elevation in cardiac enzyme levels in the blood, and this is a marker of cardiac injury. This cardiac injury can result in palpitations or heart failure.
Q: What signs should someone recovering from COVID-19 look for to indicate that they may have a lasting heart problem?
A: Persistent, unusual shortness of breath can be a sign of heart failure. Of course, it can be difficult to distinguish shortness of breath due to COVID versus shortness of breath due to cardiac problems. A visit to a cardiologist can help try to distinguish between cardiac and pulmonary causes of shortness of breath after COVID. Palpitations can sometimes be a sign of abnormal cardiac rhythms. They should also be aware of new onset leg swelling. This can be a sign of heart failure.
Q: Can previous heart conditions worsen after exposure to the virus?
A: Yes. It is well known that patients with pre-existing heart conditions, such as heart failure or coronary artery disease, are at higher risk for complications from COVID. These patients have less cardiopulmonary reserve and the added insult of COVID on top of their cardiac condition increases the chance for poor outcomes.
Montgomery County offers free COVID testing to all those who live, work, or regularly visit the county. Rapid test kits are also available to residents for pick up at each library from 12- 2 p.m. For more information, visit MoCoCOVIDtesting.org.
The federal government also distributes free at-home COVID-19 tests. Go to covidtests.gov.