- The recovery time for most people infected with the novel coronavirus is short, especially for people who experience symptomless or mild versions of the disease.
- But some COVID-19 patients need months to regain their strength and will continue to experience symptoms due to the multi-systemic effects of the pathogen.
- Multiple studies that focused on the heart injury secondary to COVID-19 showed that patients could experience cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Moreover, the virus infected the heart tissue in older patients who died from COVID-19 cases without causing inflammation.
The novel coronavirus might target the lungs most frequently, but the pathogen can have all sorts of effects on other organs as well. Early on, physicians observed stroke-like symptoms in COVID-19 patients, as well as heart attack manifestations, and dermatologists noticed skin lesions that appeared during infections. The key finding concerned blood clotting, a phenomenon observed in various organs of patients infected with the coronavirus. Blood coagulation can make breathing harder for the patient, and can cause heart attacks and strokes in the heart and brain, respectively. The introduction of blood thinners that can prevent coagulation inside the vessels in the therapy of COVID-19 patients will continue to save lives.
Many patients then noticed that getting rid of the virus is only the first step towards recovery. And that road can be a lot lengthier than expected. Some patients recover within weeks, but others may need months to get better. The virus can harm other organs, and patients may continue to experience all sorts of symptoms after the infection clears up. A couple of new studies from Germany that focused on the virus’s action on the heart indicate that some COVID-19 patients might suffer long-lasting effects on the heart even after they recover.
The first study, published in JAMA Cardiology, found that 78 of 100 observed adults who recovered from COVID-19 showed cardiac effects that showed up on MRI scans. Additionally, 60 had ongoing inflammation of the heart muscle as a result of the infection, otherwise known as myocarditis.
Patients aged 45 to 53 from the University Hospital Frankfurt Covid-19 Registry were recruited in the study between April and June. The majority of the patients experienced an asymptomatic version of the disease or a moderate case of COVID-19. Sixty-seven people from the study recovered at home.
The researchers took blood tests and heart tissue biopsies and performed MRIs on all the patients. The data was then compared to readings from 50 healthy volunteers and 57 volunteers that had underlying conditions. The study showed that the people infected with the virus developed heart issues regardless of the other medical conditions they were suffering from, and regardless of the severity of COVID-19.
Myocardial inflammation can weaken the heart muscle and lead to other cardiac complications. It may be years until scientists fully understand the heart implications of COVID-19 in surviving patients.
The other study was published in the JAMA Cardiology magazine as well and focused on autopsies of older COVID-19 patients who died fighting the disease.
The 39 German patients included in the research were aged 78 to 89, with researchers analyzing heart tissue during the autopsies. Sixteen of the patients had the virus in their heart tissue, but they did not show inflammation as was the case with the patients in the previous study. While myocarditis signs were not present, the research is still important because it shows the virus can reach and spread in the heart tissue.
A separate editorial joined the two studies to raise awareness on COVID-19’s effects on the heart, CNN reports. Dr. Clyde Yancy of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Dr. Gregg Fonarow of the University of California, Los Angeles wrote that they “see the plot thickening” and that they “are inclined to raise a new and very evident concern that cardiomyopathy and heart failure related to COVID-19 may potentially evolve as the natural history of this infection becomes clearer.”
Without generating “additional anxiety,” the two doctors said that other investigators should continue to seek more evidence that can confirm or refute the conclusions of the two studies. If more research were to prove these findings, “then the crisis of COVID-19 will not abate but will instead shift to a new de novo incidence of heart failure and other chronic cardiovascular complications.”