October 4, 2023


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Exclusive: Why does COVID impact your heart? Leading doctor explains

Nearly nine months after the first COVID-19 case was detected in China, the world is only coming to terms with how deadly SARS-COV-2 virus could be. What was first dismissed as a flu-like infection could carry repercussions for your vital organs as well. From the severity of infection to Post-COVID symptoms, COVID-19 can be quite dangerous than we thought.

One of the most affected organs is the heart. According to a study published in JAMA Cardiology, nearly 78{a38ddb2ded6b05e28c8ae73a8db0e271c21f7193684bd9e4e28acae292f81d99} of recovered patients throng back to hospitals complaining of heart ailments. New evidence now suggests that cardiac problems could also strike those in the first days of infection, even for those who show no visible symptoms.

From shortness of breath, cardiovascular complications, muscle breakdown and inflammation (myocarditis), there’s a lot of implications for your heart, even if you haven’t encountered a heart problem before. For those with heart problems, COVID could also bring an increased mortality risk. A study done by China CDC Weekly found that 22{a38ddb2ded6b05e28c8ae73a8db0e271c21f7193684bd9e4e28acae292f81d99} of patients who died from COVID suffered from cardiac problems.

We spoke to Dr Naresh Trehan, leading cardiologist, Chairman & Managing Director, Medanta Heart Institute, who says that we are only beginning to uncover the complications of the virus for the human body.

Why are there increasing reports of COVID related myocardial injuries?

Dr Trehan agrees that while COVID could affect a person in a mild or moderate way, depending on your age and health, it presents the most risks for those with pre-existing morbidities:

“A complete appreciation and understanding of COVID 19, its short and long term effects are still in process. Even as this unfolds, it is clear that beyond the infection itself, the virus impacts vital organs in the body. The heart is one.”

He also warned that heart health could be impacted in many ways, in the long run.

“Patients with cardiovascular diseases are at an enhanced risk of more severe complications arising from COVID-19. At a preliminary level, it may lead to a decrease in heart function. This could be a result of either the systemic inflammatory response to infection or direct viral infection in the heart. The two most common heart conditions the virus causes are heart failure and heart arrhythmia. Heart failure can occur due to excessive pressure in the lungs or from heart inflammation known as myocarditis. In older patients, heart failure can be fueled by the presence of existing heart conditions while in a younger population, it is mostly a consequence of myocarditis caused by COVID-19.”

Experimental medications such as antiviral and anti-inflammatory drugs being repurposed in treating diagnosed patients are also exposing them to risks. Hence, preventing and managing risk factors early on could be the way to safeguard yourself.

What are the warning signs one should be looking out for?

Signs of respiratory deterioration can be easier to spot, but Dr Trehan warns that people should also be aware of sudden changes related to heart health. Besides a cold, cough, headache or persisting fever, some warning signs which should not be taken lightly are:

-Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

-Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

-Confusion or disorientation.

-Bluish lips or face

-Dip in oxygen levels

Apart from this, practising preventive measures, such as making changes to your diet and lifestyle can also ward off risk and keep your body healthy. Regular exercise, cutting back on smoking (which is said to increase the risk of catching COVID-19), keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in balance should be some of the steps all of us should be practising, whether you are in your 20s, 30s or late 50s. Ignoring symptoms would only make matters worse.

Post-COVID heart care is important too

Post-COVID heart care is also something people are talking about. While the exact reason why COVID causes damage to your heart is under question, recovery from COVID could require acute care and attention. Some long-hauliers are also bringing attention to rehabilitative care. Rehab centres for COVID care have also opened up across cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

Depending on how healthy you are, recovery can take time. Nonetheless, patients should continue to practice preventive steps even after testing negative for the virus, Dr Trehan says.

“Patients who experience moderate to severe disease may have abnormalities in the cardiac and respiratory functions, which can have serious repercussions in the long run. Such patients complain of a range of symptoms, commonest being breathlessness, fatigue, joint pain, and chest pain, present for weeks. For this population, post-COVID rehabilitation is required in which they are evaluated for lung and cardiac function periodically to treat persistent clinical problems like lung fibrosis, low oxygen concentrations, postural drop blood pressure and related cardiac complications.”

If you have a pre-existing heart problem, or have been recently diagnosed with one, it’s pertinent to be cautious and opt for regular screenings and tests. Heart patients who get infected with the virus should keep in touch with their doctors regularly and keep them updated for timely medical intervention, if required.