Although COVID-19 initially presented as a respiratory disease that primarily affects lung function, doctors have learned over the past eight months that serious short- and long-term effects on the heart are all too common.
From affecting the heart’s rhythm to impairing its ability to pump blood throughout the body, COVID can damage cardiac muscle even in those who never displayed symptoms, according to University of California San Francisco's Nisha Parikh, MD, cardiologist and associate professor of medicine, who shared what we know so far in the Winter 2021 edition of UCSF Magazine.
Not directly due to the virus itself, Dr. Parikh says, is the category of patients that have delayed seeking care for “hours, days, or even weeks” after potential heart attack symptoms begin, out of fear they might catch the virus. “This has led to some really serious complications we hadn’t seen in some time because we now have such good treatments for heart attacks that are detected early enough,” she said.
For those with COVID-19, Dr. Parikh says there are many ways the virus can harm the heart in the first few weeks worsening problems, or creating new ones, like pumping blood effectively, inflammation of the heart muscle, and inflammation of the membrane around the heart.
“We determined this based on deaths from COVID-19 that we know about. But there’s also been a spike in deaths occurring outside the hospital nationwide since this spring, including people being found dead at home from unknown causes,” she said. “It makes you wonder how many of these out-of-hospital deaths were really COVID-19-related cardiovascular deaths.”
Cardiovascular symptoms ranging from chest pain to palpitations to lightheadedness seem to be some of the long-term effects of patients in the so-called COVID-19 “long-hauler category.”
Dr. Parikh says there is still much to learn about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart, and studies will systematically follow patients who have had COVID-19. “Unfortunately, we will likely have plenty of potential research subjects,” she said.
To read the full article, click here.