Understanding the Possible Cardiac Impact of COVID-19

June 12, 2021

COVID-19 vaccinations continue to bring much-needed hope and relief more than a year out from the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Meantime, questions remain about the impact of the coronavirus on the body, including the heart. How exactly can the heart be affected, and could there be potential long-term problems? Doctors and medical professionals are still working to find these answers. There are, however, certain signs to be aware of. 

A masked male patient having his heart checked with a stethoscope by a masked female clinician.
Ask your doctor about any concerns you have following a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Inflammation and Myocarditis

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to fight infection; however, doctors have observed that for some people with COVID-19, this response can go into overdrive. In some cases, this extreme reaction has been linked to a rare but serious condition called myositis, which is inflammation of a muscle. When myositis impacts the heart, it is called myocarditis.

According to The Myositis Association, myocarditis can lead to a number of serious conditions such as cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart), arrhythmias (an irregular heartbeat), hardening of the arteries and congestive heart failure.

What Can You Do?

“Listen to your body,” says Michael Gunter, MD, a member of the Valley Health System Graduate Medical Education Family Medicine faculty and MDVIP family medicine physician. “If you’re having chest discomfort or shortness of breath on exertion post-COVID, have it looked at by your physician. Your physician can determine if you need to be referred to a cardiologist, and the cardiologist would determine any additional testing such as EKG, stress test, echocardiogram and troponin levels.”

Troponins are proteins in the blood that can be measured by a blood test to help detect possible heart injury. If the troponin level is elevated, the cardiologist might recommend a cardiac MRI to further assess for myositis. 

Dr. Gunter says that COVID-related myocarditis is rare. Still, there is more to learn about how myocarditis and other cardiac conditions may be impacted by COVID-19. It’s important to talk with your doctor about any concerning symptoms.

Young Athletes

As sports resume in Nevada, Dr. Gunter advises young athletes who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to be proactive about their health. If there is continued post-COVID chest pain and shortness of breath, they should contact their physician.

Medical emergency? Don’t delay care. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.