Western Pennsylvania Guide to Good Health
Departments Health Links Calendar Archived Issues Media Kit Contact Us
  Senior Care Senior Living Camps & Activities for Special Needs Children Ask the Expert  
  Article    
 

Post-COVID Syndrome and Your Heart: An Expert Explains Persistent Cardiac Symptoms in COVID Survivors
By Nancy Kennedy

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation quickly learned that persons with pre-existing heart conditions were at higher risk of developing serious illness and complications. Now, with millions of Americans having had COVID, we are learning that the virus has potentially impacted the heart health of COVID survivors – not only those with pre-existing cardiac conditions, but even those with healthy hearts.

According to data provided by Alan Bramowitz, M.D., a board-certified cardiologist with Jefferson Cardiology Association, the majority of those who have had COVID-19 will recover and do well, but for some, there are lingering symptoms that persist long after resolution of the initial, acute infection. “This can be true even for those who had mild illness and were not hospitalized,” Dr. Bramowitz says. “These persistent symptoms are sometimes referred to as ‘post-COVID syndrome.’ Post COVID syndrome can affect anyone who has had the virus, even young, healthy people. Post-COVID heart symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and tachycardia – an abnormally fast heart rate.”

Although COVID -19 is a respiratory infection that directly impacts the lungs, it is now known that it can cause systemic illness and may damage other organs in addition to the lungs - particularly the heart. “COVID has been known to invade the heart muscle and create inflammation – this is called myocarditis. Myocarditis can range from minimal inflammation to severe damage. COVID may also take the form of abnormal blood clotting and blood vessel problems,” Dr. Bramowitz says.

Assessment of post-COVID heart health may include an EKG, echocardiogram and blood work to evaluate the level of Troponin. An elevation in Troponin levels is an indication of damaged heart tissue. If any of these tests are abnormal, a cardiac MRI is to be considered. Cardiac MRI is a valuable diagnostic technology that provides excellent, accurate images of internal structures and helps cardiologists manage heart failure, valve problems and other heart conditions. “The question is, should post-COVID patients have cardiac imaging studies? It isn’t cost-effective to get a cardiac MRI on everyone,” Dr. Bramowitz explains. “There have been studies in which cardiac MRI showed muscle damage that was not seen on the routine tests. Even with this finding, is the muscle damage long term? Will it resolve? We simply do not have the answers yet. It’s too soon to know.”

Short-term follow-up on athletes with myocarditis often reveals complete recovery. Late cardiac complications have not been seen to date.

These post-COVID symptoms can also be a consequence of lung injury, or they may simply be the long term effect of serious illness. “It’s not unusual to be weak and fatigued for months after any serious infection, due to deconditioning. Additionally, the fatigue and shortness of breath may due to other causes such as lung fibrosis,” Dr. Bramowitz explains. “It can be difficult to know which symptoms are COVID-related and which are due to something else.”

Dr. Bramowitz says that studies done in Europe, China and the U.S. have found that inflammation and scarring of heart muscle may be present on CMRI even when symptoms are absent and EKG and echo are normal. “In general, the numbers look small and clinically insignificant at this point and the long term significance is unclear. If you had COVID and are having symptoms, don’t ignore them – see your primary care provider. Most people will slowly get better and will eventually have a full recovery. Inflammation tends to resolve. Studies on athletes have shown this to be the case.”

 More time and more research is essential, Dr. Bramowitz says. A major study by the NHLBI was launched in June and will conclude in December. The CDC is tracking long COVID cases and the impact of COVID on heart health.

Dr. Bramowitz emphasized that it’s important to recognize that post-COVID symptoms include not only physical symptoms but also psychological symptoms. “The combination of serious illness plus the social isolation and stress of the pandemic combined to produce significant emotional illness for many people. Anxiety, depression, cognitive changes and sleep disturbances are common among those who are recovering from COVID, especially for those who were hospitalized in the ICU. These symptoms should not be ignored either – if you are experiencing this, tell your PCP.”

To contact Jefferson Cardiology, call (412) 469-1500 or visit www.jeffersoncardiology.com.



Westmoreland County Special Edition Download a PDF version Advertise Subscribe for FREE
Subscribe to GTGH

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

Focus

CMS Housing – Apartments

Doterra

WR Cameron Wellness Center

Medicare Specialists of Pittsburgh

East End Food Coop

Reserve This Space | Call 412-835-5796 or email goodhealthmag@aol.com


Western Pennsylvania Guide to Good Health. All rights reserved.


Send email to goodhealthmag@aol.com