While COVID-19 has been most frequently discussed as a respiratory infection, the virus can also have a profound impact on the cardiovascular system, especially for those with certain pre-existing conditions. With the recent surges in COVID cases brought about the rise of the omicron variant, it’s as important as it ever was to know how the pandemic can affect your heart and make sure that you’re prepared and protected from potentially dangerous complications.
According to the most recent data and reporting, the omicron variant tends to manifest as a typical upper respiratory infection, like a common cold. Most infected people present with symptoms of a runny nose, headache, fatigue, sore throat, nasal congestion and sneezing. Cough and fever, as well as loss of smell and taste, appear to be less common.
There have been increased reports of infected COVID patients experiencing elevated heart rates that persist for weeks, even after the infection has subsided. The increased heart rate is thought to be secondary to multiple factors, such as dehydration, deconditioning, or simply being out of shape post COVID. For some patients, COVID will result in persistent inflammatory states which can lead to long-term elevated heart rates.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots, stroke or heart failure. In a certain subset of people infected with COVID, who may have a predisposition to atrial fibrillation, the elevated inflammatory state caused by COVID can lead to atrial fibrillation. The heart’s job during an infection is to beat faster and harder, to circulate more blood to all parts of the body, to aid the immune system in fighting the infection.
During an infection, the body produces multiple hormones and chemicals to stimulate the heart to beat faster and harder. The longer the heart is stimulated at an elevated rate, the higher the chance of provoking atrial fibrillation and or other abnormal heart rhythms.
While there is no absolute way to protect against afib, there are ways to minimize your risk of developing it. Preparation is key – having good health before an infection will greatly reduce the probability of developing atrial fibrillation if you happen to be infected with COVID. This means eating a healthy diet, exercising, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy body weight, sleeping well, and treating and controlling conditions like hypertension and obstructive sleep apnea.
If you are infected with COVID-19, controlling your fever and inflammation with over the counter medications is an important step in reducing the inflammatory response and lowering the chance of atrial fibrillation. If you have any chronic health conditions you should always check with your doctor as to which over the counter medications are safe to use when you have COVID.
Other measures to reduce the risk of atrial fibrillation are:
If you do develop atrial fibrillation it is important that you see your doctor as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.