Here's How Even Mild COVID Can Wreak Havoc on Your Heart, Doctor Says
Your heart could unknowingly be hurting even if you never experienced any coronavirus symptoms.
The coronavirus has the ability to affect various people in many different ways. However, it's often been assumed that those who have more severe cases of the virus will face the worst of its effects. But that may not be the case. In fact, one doctor is highlighting the severe complications even a mild coronavirus case may produce. She says that even without any symptoms, COVID can wreak havoc on your heart through myocarditis.
"We've also known for a while that some COVID-19 patients' hearts are taking a beating—but over the past few weeks, the evidence has strengthened that cardiac damage can happen even among people who have never displayed symptoms of coronavirus infection," Carolyn Barber, MD, a veteran emergency department physician, wrote for Scientific American.
Barber says COVID heart damage is centralized around myocarditis, a disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. And this disease usually appears as a result of a virus attacking the heart or as a consequence of inflammation provoked by the body's immune response.
"This is an incredibly tricky diagnosis. Patients with myocarditis often experience symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, fever and fatigue—while some have no symptoms at all," Barber explains.
And it seems that this myocarditis is affecting coronavirus patients of all ages, no matter the severity of their case. An August study from The Lancet showed the result of an autopsy on an 11-year-old child who had died of myocarditis and heart failure. In the autopsy, they found coronavirus particles in her cardiac tissue. And Ossama Samuel, MD, associate chief of cardiology at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York, told Barber that there is a cluster of young adults developing myocarditis—some of them doing so even a "month or so after they had recovered from COVID-19," Barber says.
One July study out of Spain, conducted by researchers from the University Hospital of Salamanca and not yet peer-reviewed, observed 139 health care workers who had developed coronavirus and subsequently recovered. But despite their recovery, they found that about 10 weeks after initial symptoms, around 40 percent of them were diagnosed with myocarditis or myopericarditis—the combination of both myocarditis and pericarditis, which is inflammation of the pericardium sac surrounding the heart.
Another report estimates that as many as 7 percent of deaths from COVID may actually be the result of virus-induced myocarditis. (Barber does note that some experts feel this estimate is too high.) Barber says that any cardiac involvement "lingering weeks to months" after being diagnosed with the coronavirus is concerning, and unfortunately, research is showing more evidence of it. In fact, a German study published in the JAMA Cardiology journal found that 78 percent of recovered COVID-19 patients—the majority of whom only had mild symptoms—demonstrated cardiac involvement more than two months after being diagnosed.
"My personal take is that COVID will increase the incidence of heart failure over the next decades," Elike Nagel, lead investigator for the Germany study, told Barber. And for more on long-term coronavirus effects, check out The 98 Longest Lasting COVID Symptoms You Need to Know About.