The recent coronavirus pandemic has not only affected the way we live our lives but also made us more aware of our overall health. COVID-19 has proven to be a serious virus that can have severe consequences for many high-risk individuals, particularly on the lungs and cardiovascular system. But does COVID-19 have long-term effects on the heart? Although there are still so many unknowns regarding COVID-19, here’s what you should know about lasting damages it may cause to the heart.
Effects of COVID-19 on the Heart
Before looking at the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the cardiovascular system, it helps to understand the virus’ immediate effects on the heart. Most people associate the novel coronavirus with damage to the respiratory system, but it can also wreak havoc on the heart, especially in elderly patients or those with pre-existing health issues.
One of the most significant ways that COVID-19 affects the heart is through a lack of oxygen. Because the virus can cause inflammation or fluid buildup in the lungs, there are almost always symptoms that make it more difficult for the patient to breathe when infected with the virus. With less oxygen in the bloodstream, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body, so the patient’s cells are getting sufficient oxygen.
Unfortunately, this extra strain on the heart can damage the heart tissue, according to an article published by Johns Hopkins Medicine . In the short term, this damage to the heart can look and feel a lot like the symptoms of a heart attack, including shortness of breath and chest pain.
Who Is Most at Risk for Heart Problems From COVID-19?
Groups with the highest risks for developing heart problems from COVID-19 are those with prior heart disease, underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems. According to the Mayo Clinic , the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 is higher if you have cardiovascular diseases such as:
Congenital heart disease
Coronary artery disease
In addition, patients with high blood pressure or diabetes may suffer more severe coronavirus symptoms, which could include effects on the heart and cardiovascular system. If you have heart disease or other health conditions that put you in a higher risk category for COVID-19 and heart damage, it’s essential to follow safety guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health organizations to lower your risk of contracting the virus.
COVID-19 and Long-Term Heart Damage
Because respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 could deprive the body of oxygen, it can damage other organs, including heart tissue. Although not all patients will experience heart damage due to COVID-19, some individuals with high-risk factors could suffer the following:
Inflammation of the heart. Medically referred to as myocarditis, inflammation of the heart tissue in the middle layer of the heart wall can be caused by viral infections such as COVID-19. In severe cases, the inflammation can damage the heart to a point of chronic shortness of breath, abnormal heartbeat, heart failure and even sudden death.
Stress cardiomyopathy. Viral infections can also result in cardiomyopathy, which is a disorder that affects the muscles of the heart. The heart loses the ability to effectively pump blood through the body. Although many patients recover from this issue after the viral infection resolves, some people with existing heart disease could suffer long-term damage.
Cytokine storm. A cytokine storm is an extreme immune system response to a viral infection, such as COVID-19. When this happens, the body starts attacking the virus but also destroys healthy tissue in the process. Inflammation and irreversible damage can occur in major organs, including the heart. It may cause ventricular arrhythmias and possibly a fatal heart attack.
As previously mentioned, some COVID-19 symptoms can mimic the signs of a heart attack. In fact, some of the first symptoms of COVID-19 could be more cardiac-related rather than respiratory, according to an article published by The New York Times . In any case, if you have shortness of breath, chest pain or any other signs of a heart attack, do not ignore these symptoms. Seek medical help immediately. Even if they are caused by COVID-19 and not a heart attack, you could suffer from long-term heart damage if not treated as early as possible.
How to Keep Your Heart and Cardiovascular System Healthy
Staying active and making sure your heart and cardiovascular system are strong can go a long way for your overall health. Whether you are in the high-risk category for COVID-19 or not, staying healthy should always be a priority.
One of the best ways to take control of your health is to adopt practices that could help you avoid significant health issues in the future. For example, commit to getting more exercise, drinking more water, and cutting back on sodium and foods that are high in sugar or fat. You should also consider getting preventative scans to help you identify any red flags as early as possible. A low-dose heart CT scan can tell you just how healthy your heart is, as well as predict your risk of a heart attack by measuring your calcium score.
Preventative Diagnostic Center in Las Vegas offers affordable body scans, including heart scans with coronary calcium scores, to help patients stay on top of their health. Committing to your wellbeing before a major problem occurs will ensure that you live a long and healthy life for you and your loved ones. Contact our team to learn more about our preventative body scans.
Dr. John J. Pierce is the Medical Director at Preventative Diagnostic Center. He is Board-certified in Emergency Medicine as well as Board-certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He received his medical training from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, in Pomona California. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to his regular practice, Dr. Pierce serves as a Tactical Physician with the Las Vegas SWAT team.