COVID-19 and Your Heart
Two years ago, health experts knew very little about COVID-19. Now, they’re continuing to uncover its secrets.
New research finds the disease may cause lasting damage to the cardiovascular system. While the news can feel frightening, understanding what’s at stake can ensure you get the care you need.
Calculating the risks
In a new paper, a group of government researchers studied more than 150,000 veterans who survived COVID-19. They compared them with a group of more than 5.6 million people who weren’t infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The results showed people who had COVID-19 had more heart problems. Specifically, over the course of about a year, they had greater odds of:
Stroke, by 52%
Heart attack, by 63%
Coronary artery disease, by 72%
Any major heart event—including heart attack, stroke, and death—by 55%
Heart problems appeared across age groups and regardless of health status. This suggests anyone who gets COVID-19 can develop cardiac complications, not just older people or those with existing heart issues.
How the virus harms the heart
There are several different ways COVID-19 can affect the heart. COVID-19 may inflame the heart causing damage to the heart muscle. Or it may disrupt the electrical signals that cause the heart to beat properly.
In addition, lung damage may prevent essential oxygen from reaching the heart, harming cardiac tissues. Inflammation and overactive immune system responses may also play a role.
Heart conditions often go hand in hand with other long-term complications, such as fatigue, mood changes, and brain fog. Together, these are known as post-COVID conditions, or long COVID.
Avoid sickness, stay alert for symptoms
The results have 2 major implications, the study authors say.
First: Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are still important. If you haven’t already, get vaccinated. Go for any recommended boosters when you’re eligible. Vaccines protect you from catching COVID-19, reduce the risk for long-term complications, and may even improve symptoms of long COVID.
Second: Providers and patients should be aware of heart problems related to the virus. If you’ve had COVID-19, go to all your follow-up medical visits. Also, watch for warning signs such as:
Chest pain or discomfort
Inability to exercise
See your healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms or have concerns about your heart. And if you have signs of a heart attack or stroke—including drooping on one side of the face; trouble speaking; and lingering pain or discomfort in the chest, arms, neck, or jaw—call 911 immediately.
Your primary care provider, or a specialist, may recommend blood or other tests, such as echocardiograms. Based on the results, treatment may include medicines, physical therapy, or guided exercise programs.