How does Covid-19 affect the heart?
Although known as a respiratory virus, doctors believe that the coronavirus can directly infect the muscles of the heart and cause other problems that lead to heart damage.
In some patients, as the virus impairs lung function, it can deprive the heart of adequate oxygen flow. Sometimes it can cause an overwhelming inflammatory reaction that tests the heart as the body tries to fight the infection.
The virus can also invade the blood vessels or cause inflation within them, generating blood clots that can cause heart attacks.
Clots have been found throughout the body in many coronavirus patients. This has led some doctors to try blood thinners, although there is no consensus on this treatment.
Sean Pinney, a physician at the University of Chicago, argues that people with heart disease are at higher risk for virus-related heart problems. But coronary complications have also been found in patients with Covid-19 and without known previous pathologies.
A recently published review in the journal of the American College of Cardiology notes that evidence of heart problems was found in at least 25% of hospitalized coronavirus patients. In some centers, the rate is 30% or higher. And some studies have found elevated levels of enzymes and other signs that suggest coronary damage even in patients with mild cases of Covid-19. At the moment it is unknown if these problems are permanent.
A small study found evidence of the presence of the virus in the hearts of Covid-19 sufferers who died of pneumonia. Another, using images of the heart, detected inflammation of the heart muscle in four college athletes who had mild cases of the virus. There were no images from before the athletes fell ill, so there is no way to know if they had pre-existing coronary problems.
Dr. Tom Maddox, a board member of the American College of Cardiology, said it’s unclear whether the virus can cause a normal heart to become dysfunctional.
“There are still a lot of things we don’t know,” Maddox said.