How Your Heart Health May Be At Greater Risk With COVID-19

Myocarditis is the inflammation of the heart muscle that restricts the heart from pumping blood. It can be caused by an infection or reaction to a drug, resulting in chest pains, shortness of breath, or an irregular heartbeat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people infected with COVID-19 between March 2020 and January 2021 were 16 times more at risk for myocarditis than people without COVID.

In fact, people with COVID-19 were reporting having heart damage post-COVID without having previous signs of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. If someone has a heart attack or heart muscle injury, usually the protein, troponin, is elevated in their system. A recent study in Circulation looked at people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and had elevated troponin levels to find out the extent of their heart damage and inflammation.

The researchers found 342 patients who had COVID-19 and high troponin levels across 25 hospitals in the United Kingdom from June 2020 to March 2021. Each patient had an MRI of their heart within 28 days of being discharged from the hospital. The researchers matched these patients with people who either had COVID-19 and normal troponin levels or those who had neither the virus nor high troponin levels. In other words, these patients served as the control groups.

COVID-related heart abnormalities

Compared to the controls, the study found that people with COVID-19 and high troponin levels were twice as likely to have a heart abnormality, particularly ventricular impairment or scarring of the heart from a heart attack. Myocarditis was also more prevalent in people with the virus than in people who were never infected. However, myocarditis only occurred in around 6% of those infected with COVID-19 combined with high troponin levels. The study also found that scarring of the heart predicted cardiovascular events much more than a COVID-19 infection or troponin levels.

The American Heart Association says that this study shows that myocarditis is much less common than other studies had found. Instead, the researchers suggested that myocarditis wasn't necessarily caused by a COVID infection but more likely the result of a heart attack or having small areas of scarring in the heart. The researchers also noted that the study was conducted before vaccines were widely available, and the vaccines would reduce the severity of the effects of COVID.