While most discussion about the harmful effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus has revolved around the damage it can do to your lungs, research has indicated that the virus can also cause potentially dangerous swelling and muscle weakness of the heart. While the impact of the coronavirus on heart health has not yet been fully gauged, some things are clear about COVID and your heart.
1. Though the novel coronavirus mostly affects the lungs, it can directly attack other organs as well.
COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory infection, but it may also invade other organs as it circulates in the bloodstream. If the virus directly affects the heart (myocarditis) it can cause chest pain abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure. Infection of the heart lining (pericarditis), can also cause chest pain and abnormal heart rhythms.
2. Immune response to a severe COVID-19 infection may cause damage to the heart.
In some cases, patients who are very sick with the novel coronavirus have had an immune overreaction which causes a dangerous level of inflammation. This may result in organ damage, especially to the heart and liver.
3. People with a history of cardiac problems are at a higher risk of heart complications from COVID-19.
As is also true of the influenza virus, COVID-19 has a higher likelihood of causing severe cardiovascular damage among patients who have a pre-existing cardiac issue such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
COVID-19 may also cause problems to emerge for patients who have undiagnosed heart disease. Fever and inflammation can exacerbate blockages in the heart or bloodstream which had previously not shown any symptoms. The same factors may also cause the formation of dangerous clots in the bloodstream. These can lead to deep venous clots, clots in the lungs, and strain on the right side of the heart.
4. Can COVID Increase/Elevate Your Heart Rate?
According to Dr. Amnon Beniaminovitz of Manhattan Cardiology, observed patients with COVID experienced persistent tachycardia syndrome (high heart rate compensated by low blood pressure) with fatigue, muscle aches, and pains. It is also worth noting that symptoms such as fever and inflammation can cause an increased heart rate and metabolic demand on the heart, as well as other organs. The stress on the body further compounds if the lungs are working extra hard to exchange oxygen adequately when infected with a virus.
However in a Wuhan study with 138 patients published in February 2020, showed that vital signs such as heart rate, respiratory rate, and mean arterial pressure did not differ between patients who received ICU care and patients who did not receive ICU care.
5. Infection of the lungs can indirectly cause heart damage even in patients without a history of cardiac issues.
Even when the heart is not directly infected, fever and inflammation can cause an increase in heart rate, spiking the need for oxygenated blood. At the same time, an infection of the lungs can impair the respiratory system’s capacity to process oxygen. This increased demand and decreased supply can starve the heart of oxygen, potentially resulting in heart attack-like damage (myocardial infarction type 2).
Preventing Cardiac Complications From COVID-19
Everyone should be taking the universal precautions of social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, and continuing to take any necessary medications. However, if you have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus and have one or more conditions that leave your heart more vulnerable, there are preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk of harmful complications.
COVID-19 And Low Blood Pressure
For patients with low blood pressure, it is important to keep up with your ins and outs. Fevers can often dehydrate you by causing you to sweat and reducing your appetite. If you have low blood pressure, you have to make sure you are eating and drinking enough to offset the effects of the fever and infection. If this cannot be accomplished at home you should go to the hospital for further treatment.
COVID-19 And High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
Depending on the seriousness of a COVID-19 infection, a patient may be asked to temporarily cease taking certain blood pressure medications until the infection has abated. If you have high blood pressure and have tested positive for the coronavirus, the best thing to do is to inform your cardiologist or primary care physician and work out a personal treatment plan.
COVID-19 And PAD
People with PAD should take the same precautions as people with cardiovascular disease. If diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus people with PAD should continue taking their medications, especially their statins. They should schedule a visit with their cardiologist to review their medications and make any changes in treatment that may be necessary during the infection.
COVID-19 And Atrial Fibrillation
All infections increase the incidence and occurrence of atrial fibrillation. A virus such as COVID-19 increases inflammation and upregulates certain immune proteins and hormones that can cause the heart to beat faster and harder. This effect is normally beneficial, as a faster beating heart circulates more blood to aid in fighting the infection. If you have a history of atrial fibrillation and have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, it is important that you notify your cardiologist and schedule a visit.
COVID and Pericarditis
Pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium, a fibrous membrane that surrounds the heart. Pericarditis can be caused by viral illnesses such as Coxsackie B, Herpes, Mumps, and HIV. The relationship between COVID and pericarditis is that it is a late-stage complication of COVID-19 after the lungs recover from the illness.
Myocardial inflammation is a concern in COVID patients because recovery time has been slower than usual with increased risk of sudden death and ventricular arrhythmias in weakened hearts. Post mortem findings also suggest that viral replication occurs in the interstitial cells without evidence of myocarditis.
What To Do If You’re Worried About COVID-19
Observing social distancing and quarantine guidelines should dramatically reduce your chances of contracting the coronavirus. However, even while staying at home, there are additional precautions you can take to make sure that any infection that does occur is identified and treated as quickly as possible. Check your temperature daily and get a pulse oximeter to check your body’s oxygen levels. If you need an expert opinion, schedule a remote appointment with Manhattan Cardiology’s team by visiting our appointment portal and selecting “TeleHealth Appointment” from the dropdown menu.
While people with pre-existing cardiac conditions are at the highest risk of heart damage from the novel coronavirus, a possible infection should be taken seriously regardless of medical history. If you believe that you or someone you know may be infected with COVID-19, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment to get tested. Manhattan Cardiology currently offers COVID-19 antibody testing which, combined with nasal swab testing, offers the most accurate possible test results.