The Heart of the Matter: COVID-19 and Your Heart Health

Apr 29, 2021

COVID-19 reminded us of the fragility of our bodies. As hand sanitizer sales skyrocketed alongside ICU occupancies, we increased our efforts to care for the vulnerable: the young, the immunocompromised, and the elderly.

We learned what made others vulnerable to severe encounters with the virus, and we learned how COVID-19 could cause longer-lasting issues, particularly for those with heart conditions.

We know now that heart disease is a significant risk factor for having a severe case of COVID-19. In other words, having heart problems made it more likely for those who have COVID-19 to get severely ill.

So, a new question surfaced: Could someone develop heart problems from COVID-19? Doctors sometimes refer to this as “cardiac involvement.” The short answer is yes, but Dr. Harvey Hahn, cardiologist, believes the subject is more complicated.

Is there cardiac involvement with COVID-19?

Dr. Hahn explains that there are three levels to experiencing COVID-19:

1. Asymptomatic or mild symptoms

2. Symptoms serious enough to be hospitalized

3. ICU hospitalization due to symptoms and complications

Almost all deaths from COVID-19 happen in the ICU.

Ten percent of those who have COVID-19 who reach the second level—hospitalization—have some type of cardiac involvement. This can include heart attacks, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, stroke, or even myocarditis.

What is myocarditis?

Myocarditis inflames the heart muscle. It’s normally caused by a virus (like the flu) or something affecting the heart muscle. The COVID-19 virus can cause myocarditis. But, it’s important to note, not every person who has COVID-19 will develop myocarditis.

Listen to your heart: watch for symptoms.

Those who test positive for or have been hospitalized with COVID-19 should watch for these common heart disease symptoms, including

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, weakness, or coldness in your arms or legs
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back

“If you’re having issues breathing or retaining fluids and swelling up, that could mean that you have some short or even long-term damage to your heart,” Dr. Hahn said. If you’re hospitalized with COVID-19, symptoms may last longer than just your hospital stay.

What happens after you leave the hospital?

If you are diagnosed with heart problems following COVID-19, you might have long-term damage. So make sure you see your cardiologist if you have symptoms after you’ve been discharged.

“See your cardiologist and regular doctor. They will run tests to see how your heart is working. They will determine the best treatment for your situation,” Dr. Hahn said.

How to prevent COVID-related heart issues

The only way to prevent the development of cardiac problems following COVID-19 is by limiting your exposure to the disease.

“Don’t get COVID-19. You should social distance, wear a mask, and get your vaccine. I would highly recommend getting vaccinated,” Dr. Hahn said.

You can take preventive measures, limiting your exposure to risk factors and doing what you can to live as healthy a lifestyle as you can.

“Live a healthy lifestyle: eat a good diet, exercise, sleep, destress,” Dr. Hahn said. “All of those things will get you healthier and help you avoid risk factors for COVID-19.”

Get to the heart of the matter

We can’t control everything COVID-19 affects in our lives. But we can do a lot to care for ourselves and our loved ones, to keep COVID-19 from getting to our hearts.

If you are experiencing any cardiac symptoms or are concerned about family history, talk to your family doctor or cardiologist immediately. Learn more about Heart and Vascular care offered at Kettering Health Network.

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