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COVID-19 Study Suggests Lasting Heart Damage Likely for Many

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A previously unknown threat from the coronavirus has come to light according to a study published Monday in the journal Cardiology. The virus can damage the heart muscle, researchers found, even when the case of COVID-19 was mild.

The study examined 100 patients who had recently recovered from COVID-19, 28 of whom required oxygen supplementation and two of whom were put on ventilators. There were preexisting conditions including high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes mixed into the group, but no previously known heart failure or cardiomyopathy. Of the group, 78 showed damage to the heart.

Given the pressing burden of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, as well as the initiation of longitudinal care models for those recovering from COVID-19, the concerns we are raising are not theoretical but instead practical and require our due diligence to study and prepare for what may be another dimension of the COVID-19 crisis. — Clyde Yancy, MD, MSc, study author

The Frontlines: As shown on a cardiac MRI, more than three-quarters of the study’s participants had visual signs of damage to the heart muscle. Sixty of them had indications of persistent inflammation in the heart. The participants were aged 45 to 53 and two-thirds of them had recovered from their COVID-19 symptoms at home. The damage was consistent across the group despite any preexisting conditions and did not seemed tied to the severity of their illness.

  • Inflammation of the heart is called myocarditis and one of the causes is viral infection
  • COVID-19 has been shown to infect organs all throughout the body. Organs besides the heart that can be impacted include the lungs, liver, brain, kidneys, and intestines
  • The study suggested that the effects of the coronavirus may linger long after the virus has left the body
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

A Mighty Voice: One thing that is just now starting to get more attention is how COVID-19 can hang on, in some cases for weeks or months. Our contributor, Jennifer Diamond, relates to people experiencing chronic coronavirus symptoms as someone with chronic illness.

“This is not your fault. The pain, fatigue and difficulty processing information are not your fault. This is not ‘in your head.’ This is not weakness. You are not ‘hysterical’ or overreacting. When you explain the dozens of mysterious symptoms to doctors, family, partners, friends and colleagues, some will shake their heads and respond, ‘It just can’t be true.’ Believe your body.” You can submit your first-person story, too.

Add Your Voice: Join The Mighty’s Coronavirus group by downloading our app or comment below.

Other things to know: COVID-19 continues to shape our world, particularly as we prepare for children to return to school. Learn how others in The Mighty community are coping during these changing days:

How to take action: To avoid the kind of heart damage researchers found in this study, prevention is still the best strategy to protect against the coronavirus. According to the CDC, the best tool is to avoid being exposed to the virus through:

  • Frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizers
  • Social distancing of 6 feet between yourself and people who don’t live in your household
  • Wearing cloth face masks is public settings (Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.)
  • Cover coughs and sneezes, throw used tissues in the trash, and wash your hands right away
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily

Header image via lekkyjustdoit/Getty Images

Originally published: July 30, 2020
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