Even mild cases of COVID can lead to long-term heart disease, say researchers

ATLANTA – Chadwick Knight was not hospitalized in January 2021, struggled with COVID-19, but he never returned to his previous health.

It was always windy. He had a brain fog.

Then, more than a year after contracting the coronavirus, a 47-year-old man fell to the floor of a living room last month. He was rushed to the emergency room with a new, life-threatening post-COVID complication: a blood clot in an artery running from his heart to his lungs.

“You get sick and you think you’re better, and then you still have problems. Now, it just seems like a lot of things over and over, and you don’t know what the future holds, “said Knight, who lived on the Atlanta subway for several years before moving to Dothan, Alabama.” It makes you very anxious and mentally distressed. “

Cardiologists report an increasing number of patients, such as Knight, who have post-COVID cardiovascular symptoms or new, serious heart disease. These patients may have a wide range of heart problems, including heart attack, blood clotting, coronary heart disease, and heart failure.

A new major study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 5 survivors of COVID in the United States under the age of 65 had at least one health condition that was considered chronic COVID. Among those over 65, this number is 1 in 4.

Prolonged COVID is the name given to the symptoms of a coronavirus infection that can last for more than a month and can include problems in many different organs, such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

The level of long-lasting COVID heart symptoms is getting better attention.

“We’ve seen patients come in with COVID for a long time,” the doctor said. Jeffrey Marshall, head of the Cardiovascular Institute at Northside Hospital. “Doctors say, first of all, does this patient have objective heart disease or do they have dizziness syndrome?

In a recent study, the health data of more than 150,000 people were treated with COVID by the Department of Veterans Affairs as of January. From 15 to 2021, researchers found that patients had a “significant” risk of developing cardiovascular problems for at least a year after receiving a positive test for the virus.

Hospitalized patients with COVID, especially those treated in the intensive care unit, were at the highest risk for serious heart or cardiovascular problems. However, the risks were higher among those who were not in critical condition and hospitalized.

Overall, the researchers compared those who had never been infected with the virus to those who had at least one of 20 different heart conditions in 45 out of every 1,000 patients. This is equivalent to about 4%. Despite the low percentage, the numbers could rise further: more than 83 million people in the United States are infected, and millions more are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Rajiev Singh, a cardiologist at the Piedmont Heart Institute, said the strengths of the VA study are its large volume and rigorous statistical analysis. However, he said, the study also had limitations: most of the participants were white, and most of the data were collected before vaccination and many variants, including the emergence of omicron.

Nevertheless, the results of the study attracted the attention of doctors.

Singh: “Any COVID – it’s a bad COVID and can have many downside effects – neurological, cardiovascular disease.” “The best way to prevent long-term COVID is to avoid COVID in the first place.”

Even before the COVID pandemic, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States.

Doctors have identified several ways that COVID can damage the heart muscle and heart function. Because the body’s immune system fights the virus, the inflammatory process can damage blood vessels and some healthy tissues, including the heart. However, medical tests often do not show any signs of heart disease in people who report heart symptoms.

One of the leading theories on long-term COVID heart problems is that it may not be a new heart problem for some people who experience palpitations, dizziness, or shortness of breath. Instead, it could be a neurological disease caused by a virus. COVID can affect the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate and respiration rate, body temperature, digestion and metabolism. When this system is disrupted, the processes it regulates are also disrupted.

This is what happened to Adrien Levez, who has struggled with a number of debilitating symptoms since she became infected with COVID for the second time in August 2020. Not only was his brain foggy and tired, but his heart was pounding, his blood pressure was rising, and his heart was pounding. A 49-year-old man began seeing a cardiologist at a long-term COVID clinic in late 2020 and was diagnosed with dysautonomia, a disorder of the autonomic nervous system.

Levesk has launched a group of Georgian COVID long haulers on Facebook. “Heart disease is very big. There are a lot of people on Facebook who are doing the same thing,” Leveske said.

Doctors encourage former COVID patients with heart palpitations, dizziness, and other problems to discuss these symptoms with their healthcare providers. Medication and physical therapy can help relieve some of the symptoms.

Doctors say there is good news for patients without heart problems: Most of them seem to be getting better over time.

According to Marshall of Northside, serious heart problems, such as myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure, are very rare in long-term COVID patients with no structural defects in their hearts. According to him, the most common is “heart attack, dizziness,” he said. “These people seem to be getting better over time.”

Dr. Joel Rosenstock is the medical director of AbsoluteCare in Bucharest, which now includes the Long COVID Clinic. He rarely suffers from serious, life-threatening cardiovascular disease. Most of his long haulers have something he calls “the soft sides of a long COVID”.

“It’s not soft on them at all,” he continued. According to him, the symptoms are usually “scattering, people work from 40% to 60% of normal energy levels. They used to go to the gym every day, now they can’t go at all. They walk 2 km every day. Now they can barely walk 500 feet. Fog is a big problem. ”

Rosenstock, who developed individual care plans to manage patients ’symptoms, said his goal was to help every long-distance patient recover, but recovery was slow and some people could never return to their previous health.

“One of the things I ask patients is – what percentage of you are normal? Usually they say 25%, “Rosenstock said.” When they come back in a few weeks, they might say 40%. We welcome that improvement. “

After being diagnosed with COVID in October, 42-year-old paramedic Ashley Morris experienced prolonged symptoms, including “tachycardia,” a medical term for more than 100 beats per minute without a heartbeat. Morris, Practical Coordinator of the Cardiovascular Institute at Northside Hospital, including a battery of tests to rule out blood clots and other heart problems, ECG. His tests did not show possible damage. He was prescribed an inhaler and a physical therapy program tailored to his COVID recovery.

“I’m fine, but I’m not completely good,” he said.

Morris also sees patients struggling with certain health problems.

“I love them, some are like me. “I’ve had shortness of breath since I had COVID, and that’s one of my biggest complaints,” he said.

Morris said he was not vaccinated when he became ill and plans to be vaccinated soon.

Levesk said it is still better than in the fall of 2020, but it will not be able to fully recover.

At the same time, Knight, who was infected with the virus before being vaccinated, has now been vaccinated and multiplied. She is taking blood thinners to prevent blood clots and continues to visit a long-term COVID clinic for help with other long-term problems. A cardiac catheterization will soon be performed to examine his heart.

He worries that his condition has not improved in recent times, but is deteriorating.

Just taking 15-pound Shih Tzu Cooper to the mailbox makes him tired.

“I miss the days before your COVID when you were living your life and had no problems. I hope I don’t get so stressed out. I hope that there will be no more blood clots and they will not find anything in my heart and I will not be so worried. ”

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