As we learn more about COVID-19 and patients continue to recover, many people are wondering if the virus has long-term effects on your health, specifically your heart. We asked Dr. Justin Trivax, Beaumont cardiologist, some common questions about coronavirus and how it impacts heart health.
Do viruses typically affect the heart?
It has been known for decades that viruses attack the heart. Common viruses such as influenza, rhinovirus (common cold), HIV and cytomegalovirus (infectious mononucleosis) have been associated with myocarditis, or an inflammation of the heart muscle. This can result in the heart becoming swollen, stiff and/or weak causing prolonged chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.
What are some of the common cardiac symptoms people with COVID-19 have experienced?
For patients with COVID-19, common cardiac symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations (rapid heartbeats). Most of these symptoms improve over time and are usually secondary to the respiratory issues common with the disease.
What is the research related to COVID-19 and heart issues showing?
New data shows that it is common for COVID-19 to affect the heart. Due to the intense inflammatory response seen during the illness, it is not unreasonable to theorize that patients with cardiac issues due to COVID-19 will likely have a worse outcome than people with other viral cardiomyopathies. Further data is needed before we come to any conclusions.
Does COVID-19 cause long-term effects on the heart?
New data published provides potential insight for the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart. I have personally evaluated patients who were hospitalized several months ago but are not able to recover. They complain of persistent chest pain, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and not feeling well overall.
Traditional tests such as electrocardiogram (EKG), cardiac ultrasound (echo), chest X-ray, CT scan of the chest, pulmonary function testing (lung studies) and comprehensive blood work doesn’t always show damage. More studies are needed to determine if cardiac MRI is the right test for these patients, and to determine how we treat the long-term cardiac issues.
What should a COVID-19 patient do if they think they are experiencing symptoms of a heart issue?
If patients are having persistent symptoms and they are several months post-infection, they should consider asking their doctor to recommend a cardiologist. Cardiac MRI is a relatively straightforward examination performed in a hospital. This may be the next best test for that patient and can reassure the patient, if nothing else, that the symptoms are not all "in their head."