Coronavirus’ Effect on the Heart

Coronavirus’ Effect on the Heart

By Cynthia Thaik, M.D., FACC

While lung injury and respiratory distress are the two most prominent complications of COVID-19, coronavirus’ effect on the heart is another serious factor to consider. COVID-19 is what is known as a ‘spectrum disease’, meaning that its effects on an individual can vary. Some may experience an infection that is barely symptomatic, and these individuals can often spread the virus to others without realizing that they are doing so. The Holistic Healing Heart Center is prepared for the additional strain on cardiologists that the coronavirus has created and will continue to create as it infects individuals in LA County and beyond.

Can Coronavirus Cause Heart Damage?

In a word, yes. The potential for those infected with coronavirus to develop new heart-related problems or complications from pre-existing cardiac disease does exist. From the early days of the virus, reports have shown that cardiac injury is a definite possibility for those infected. Of 41 patients in Wuhan, China, that were hospitalized, 5 COVID-19 patients had signs of cardiovascular damage, identified both by proteins in the blood indicative of heart muscle trauma, and abnormal heart rhythms detected by ECGs and heart ultrasounds. These reports have been corroborated by multiple others which affirm that coronavirus complications can lead to heart failure. 

COVID-19 can also cause the body to enter a state known as a ‘cytokine storm’. This is a hyperactive immune response which also occurs when people suffer from autoimmune diseases, or cancer patients undergoing immunotherapy. The hyperinflammation caused by a cytokine storm can damage the heart.

 

The Mysterious Connection Between the Coronavirus and the Heart

There are three things to bear in mind when considering the connection between COVID-19 and the cardiovascular system.

  • Firstly, those with pre-existing cardiovascular or heart problems, such as high blood pressure, are at higher risk of complications, both cardiovascular and respiratory in nature. This is consistent with other research that indicates similar viruses, such as influenza, are a more substantial threat to those with heart disease than to those without. Flu and other respiratory infections have actually been found to bring on heart attacks, in some cases. During flu epidemics more people die from heart complications than from pneumonia.
  • Secondly, the viral infection can bring to light silent cardiac symptoms that previously evaded diagnosis. For example, infection, fever, and inflammation can play a role in both inflammation of the heart and destabilizing fatty plaques in major blood vessels. Inflammation and fever also make the blood more prone to clotting, and also less capable of dissolving blood clots. It is an extremely stressful experience for the heart muscle and its dependent systems.
  • Thirdly, COVID-19 can create conditions that mimic an actual heart attack, even without the plaques that traditionally cause heart attacks. Known as myocardial infarction type 2, the heart muscle can experience this when starved of oxygen. COVID-19 often catalyzes conditions where a mismatch between oxygen supply and oxygen demand occurs. The fever and inflammation caused by the disease increase the metabolic demands on other organs including the heart, which is compounded by the inability of the lungs to optimally exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. This causes a diminished oxygen supply to the heart muscle.

Potential Effects of Coronaviruses on the Cardiovascular System

coronavirus and the cardiovascular system

Anyone living with heart disease should keep in touch with their doctors during the coronavirus pandemic, and manage their heart condition carefully, taking all required medications and refilling prescriptions in advance of scarcity. If you or a loved one becomes positive for COVID-19, request a follow-up examination after your recovery in order to detect any heart damage caused or exacerbated by the virus. 

Patients with COVID-19 who do not have a history of known heart diseases should have a follow-up with a physician after recovery, to assess whether symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or weakness persist after recovery. These symptoms could be indications of long-term damage to the lungs or heart injuries related to COVID-19. The Holistic Healing Heart Center is ready to provide services for those who have beaten the coronavirus and want to ascertain the condition of their cardiovascular system going forward. Even those patients who experienced mild or no symptoms, but have the presence of COVID antibodies in their system should consider a cardiovascular assessment of their endothelium or microvascular circulation to look for vascular inflammation. 

It’s important to understand that, while heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions make you more vulnerable to complications of COVID-19, they don’t inherently make your immune system more vulnerable to infection. The virus infects those with and without pre-existing conditions at the same rate: it’s the health risk once you have the virus that is elevated. It’s vital to take the risk of COVID-19 infection seriously. If you aren’t already following this advice from the American Heart Association, start now:

  • Continue practicing social distancing. Stay home as much as you’re able. When out in public, keep others outside your domestic unit at a distance of 6 feet or more.
  • Avoid touching surfaces out in public.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear a mask or cloth face covering when out.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • If you cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue which you dispose of in a trash can. If you don’t have a tissue, do so into your shirt sleeve at the elbow.

Cardiac Checkup Post Positive COVID-19 Diagnosis

The Holistic Healing Heart Center is ready to help you book an appointment for a post-COVID-19 checkup. Minimize the risk to your heart by being proactive with your cardiovascular health.

About the author

Dr. Cynthia Thaik, M.D., FACC is a Harvard-trained cardiologist serving the greater Los Angeles community at her holistic health center in Burbank and Valencia, CA. Dr. Thaik is the author of Your Vibrant Heart: Restoring Health, Strength, and Spirit from the Body’s Core. To learn more about Dr. Thaik or the Holistic Healing Heart Center, or to schedule an appointment, please contact info@drcynthia.com or call (818) 842-1410.