Most people who get COVID will experience respiratory symptoms – typically a cough, fatigue, fever and shortness of breath. But, they usually recover within a few weeks. However, for some people who experience severe illness with COVID, it can also have a harmful effect on your organs. Including your heart health.
Research into the virus has revealed that the coronavirus infection can damage the brain, gastrointestinal system, kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart. Inflammation and immunity weakness can also happen, leading to the development of new conditions.
While research into the effects COVID has on heart health is ongoing, here’s what we know so far…
The inflammation and fever caused by COVID can trigger the heart rate to become faster or irregular. As your body tries to fight the infection, the heart needs to work harder to pump blood around the body.
There are other factors that can cause changes to your heart rate including medications, dehydration, anxiety, and various health conditions. Therefore, it is important to seek a true diagnosis if you do experience heart palpitations.
While they aren’t usually anything to worry about, if heart palpitations last a long time and don’t improve, you should seek medical advice.
Inflammation of the heart muscle or lining
COVID has been linked to inflammation of the heart muscle, medically referred to as Myocarditis. It may also cause the lining of the heart to become inflamed, a condition known as Pericarditis. According to a recent study carried out by the BHF Cardiovascular Research Centre in Glasgow, 1 in 8 people who were hospitalised for COVID later developed Myocarditis.
Other viral infections are also known to cause inflammation of the heart muscle or lining, so it isn’t just a COVID-related issue. Interestingly, the majority of the participants in the latest study were unvaccinated, which meant they were at a higher risk of complications from a COVID infection.
Initially, researchers thought that the virus directly attacked the cells of the heart muscle. However, it is now thought that it could be a reaction to the virus by the immune system.
Symptoms of Myocarditis and Pericarditis include shortness of breath, pain in the chest, and an irregular heart rate.
The risk of heart damage
As the heart needs to work harder when you have COVID, it is placed under additional stress. If the infection is so severe that it damages the lungs, this can also limit how much oxygen is delivered to the heart. The immune system response to fight the virus can damage the blood vessel cells, leading to the formation of clots. This restricts the amount of oxygen getting to the heart, as well as deprives it of essential nutrients to stay healthy.
With the increased pressure and lack of nutrients and oxygen, it can cause damage to the heart. In severe cases, it can lead to heart failure as it doesn’t pump as well as it should.
These are some of the main ways COVID affects your heart health. If you have been diagnosed with the virus and you are experiencing symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and chest pain, it is important to seek medical attention.
Dr Konrad Grosser is a leading cardiologist who has an outstanding patient safety record. Book a consultation now to discuss any heart health concerns you may have.