Covid-19 typically impacts the respiratory system, but it has major implications on our cardiac health as well.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, Covid-19 patients with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and chronic lung issues, are six times more likely to be hospitalised and 12 times more likely to die than patients without any chronic health problems.
About 32 per cent people with Covid-19 have cardiovascular disease, making it the most common underlying health issue.
The virus can cause cardiac dysfunction even in patients without underlying heart conditions, a review by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) emphasises.
“It is likely that even in the absence of previous heart disease, the heart muscle can be affected by coronavirus disease,” says Mohammad Madjid, lead author of the study, published in JAMA Cardiology. “Overall, injury to heart muscle can happen in any patient with or without heart disease, but the risk is higher in those who already have heart disease,” adds Madjid, assistant professor of cardiology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
The study authors at UTHealth further point out that studies from previous coronavirus and influenza epidemics suggest that viral infections can cause acute coronary syndromes, arrhythmias, and the development of, or exacerbation of, heart failure.
How does it impact the heart?
Complications from coronavirus may lead to cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disorder that affects the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively, says Dr Ravisekar Sundaram, Specialist Interventional Cardiology, Mediclinic Welcare Hospital in Dubai.
“Covid-19 may also mimic symptoms of heart attack such as chest pain and shortness of breath, and cause changes in a patient’s electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) due to myocarditis,” he explains. “The damage may be temporary or lasting. Usually, the heart function recovers for most patients when the infection resolves.”
Covid-19 may also mimic symptoms of heart attack such as chest pain and shortness of breath, and cause changes in a patient’s electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) due to myocarditis. The damage may be temporary or lasting. Usually, the heart function recovers for most patients when the infection resolves.
A global survey funded by the British Heart Foundation gave us a glimpse into how Covid-19 could affect other organs beyond the lungs. It spotted cardiac abnormalities in half of all Covid-19 patients undergoing heart scan (echocardiography). The study, published in the European Heart Journal — Cardiovascular Imaging, found that around one in seven showed severe abnormalities, which are likely to have a major effect on their survival and recovery.
Blood clots are known to cause heart attacks by clogging the blood vessels in the heart. Additionally, severe Covid infection causes a lack of oxygenation in the tissues, further damaging the heart muscle.
Along with directly causing infections and damage to the heart muscle, Covid-19 may also indirectly trigger serious injuries to the heart by releasing inflammatory chemicals, which lead to damage of the walls of the blood vessels, besides increasing the chance of excessive clot formation in blood vessels, says Dr Brajesh Mittal, Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Medcare Multi-specialty Hospital Dubai.
“Blood clots are known to cause heart attacks by clogging the blood vessels in the heart. Additionally, severe Covid infection causes a lack of oxygenation in the tissues, further damaging the heart muscle.”
Heart damage in mild Covid cases
People presenting mild symptoms of Covid-19 are also at risk of heart damage, says Dr Mittal. “It is quite possible that the patient may not exhibit any signs of heart problems at the time of infection – and show up with heart conditions unexpectedly as after-effects or a late sequelae.”
Dr Sundaram from Mediclinic Welcare Hospital also says, “Even though mild cases of Covid-19 do not have symptoms, recent studies have highlighted the virus may cause heart damage and inflammation, which could put people at risk of developing heart failure and irregular heart beats.”
Subsequently, doctors say taking care of your heart is more important than ever now and it’s critical for everyone to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle to minimise any risk of complications.
Take precautions right away
“Doing regular physical activity and following sensible eating habits can go a long way in protecting your heart. Avoid stress and tobacco, and develop a positive attitude towards life,” says Dr Dinesh Babu K. V., Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Medeor Hospital, Abu Dhabi. “These measures are crucial during these testing times of the Covid-19 pandemic, as our daily movements are low, social life has been affected, and stress levels are high.”
Doing regular physical activity and following sensible eating habits can go a long way in protecting your heart. Avoid stress and tobacco, and develop a positive attitude towards life.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, doctors are also urging people to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu virus because any illness can weaken the body’s ability to fight off infections.
“Flu shots are safe for most patients with heart disease,” says Dr Sundaram. “Patients with heart problems are more likely to develop complications of influenza such as pneumonia, respiratory failure and heart attack, and having a flu can also aggravate underlying heart conditions.”
Simple steps to a healthier heart
Dr Vivek Gupta, Specialist Cardiologist, LLH Hospital, Abu Dhabi, suggests some measures to protect your cardiac health during Covid-19
Stay calm and adjust to your new normal.
Take advantage of telemedicine to maintain continuity of care for heart disease.
Continue your regular medications.
Adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Learn about the symptoms of Covid-19 as well as heart disease. Seek emergency care right away if you have symptoms.
Learn about the symptoms of Covid-19 as well as heart disease. Seek emergency care right away if you have symptoms. Some of the common symptoms of Covid-19 are fever or chills, dry cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, diarrhoea and vomiting. Symptoms of heart disease include prolonged chest pain for more than 15-20 minutes, shortness of breath, swelling of feet, palpitation and fainting attacks.