New Learning on COVID: It’s Attacking the Heart

New Learning on COVID: It’s Attacking the Heart

Emerging data show that some of the coronavirus’s most potent damage is inflicted on the heart

It seems like a lifetime ago, but at one time we were naive enough to think that COVID was an infection specific to the lungs. We’ve learned a lot in the last six months. We now know that there is hardly any part of the body this virus doesn’t attack. Some of the virus’s most potent damage is inflicted on the heart, and it can result in organ failure.

Meet Eduardo Rodriguez, poised to start as #1 pitcher for the Boston Red Sox

In July the 27-year-old tested positive for COVID. “I’ve never been that sick in my life, and I don’t want to get that sick again.” His symptoms abated, but he felt so tired after throwing 20 pitches during practice that trainers told him to stop and rest. Tests showed he had a condition many are still struggling to understand: COVID-associated myocarditis. Mr. Rodriguez won’t be taking the mound in the 2020 season.

And a patient in his early 50s with COVID-related heart disease

Myocarditis means inflammation of the heart muscle. Some patients are never bothered by it, but for others it can have serious implications. One 50-year old patient had been in perfect health with no history of serious illness when he contracted COVID. When the fevers and body aches started, he isolated himself and waited to get better. But his condition deteriorated and he accumulated gallons of fluid in his legs. When he came to the hospital unable to catch a breath, it wasn’t his lungs that had pushed him to the brink–it was his heart. He is now being evaluated to see if he needs a heart transplant.

MRI scans of patients recovered from COVID

A German study examines the way SARS-CoV-2 affects the heart. Researchers studied 100 individuals, with a median age of just 49, who had recovered from COVID. Researchers performed MRI scans of their hearts and made some alarming discoveries: Nearly 80% had persistent abnormalities and 60% had evidence of myocarditis. The degree of myocarditis was not explained by the severity of the initial illness.

Though the study has some flaws, it makes clear that in young patients who had seemingly overcome SARS-CoV-2 it’s fairly common for the heart to be affected. We may be seeing only the beginning of the damage. Despite treatment, more severe forms of Covid-19-associated myocarditis can lead to permanent damage of the heart, which in turn can lead to heart failure.

Deferred care results in a bump in heart attacks and death

Since February 2020, nearly 25,000 more Americans have died of heart disease than in the same period in previous years. Some of these deaths could be put down to COVID, but the majority are likely to be because patients deferred care for their hearts. That could lead to a wave of untreated heart disease in the wake of the pandemic.

The AMA’s Message: Don’t Die of Doubt

The American Heart Association has a new campaign called “Don’t Die of Doubt” to address the alarming reduction in people calling 911 or seeking medical care after a heart attack or stroke.

  • It’s been clear that high-risk people are those who are overweight, have diabetes or high blood pressure. Add those with heart conditions to that high-risk list. The CDC recommends that the more than 30M Americans living with heart disease take extra precautions.
  • Doctors and researchers should no longer think of Covid-19 as a disease of the lungs but as one that can affect any part of the body, especially the heart.
  • The only way to prevent more people dying of heart disease, both from damage caused by the virus as well as from deferred care of heart disease, is to control the pandemic.

COVID has created an urgency on many levels, including creating a Living Trust

As the COVID crisis drags on, more clients are scheduling appointments to create or update their Living Trusts. Our Trust package includes a Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive. It also includes a Pour Over Will, and for those families with children under 18, it means that they can name a Guardian rather than having the court appoint one for you. Creating a Trust helps provide peace of mind during these uncertain times. Best of all, we guide you through it and we prepare the legal documents. At California Document Preparers, for most of our services, we charge one flat fee. We’re helpful, compassionate and affordable.

We service the entire East Bay and North Bay areas

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The source of this article: Haider Warraich (@haiderwarraich), the author of “State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease,” is a cardiologist and researcher at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.