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Understanding Heart Problems After COVID

COVID-19 – the illness that changed our world forever – comes from a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Its spread to the United States in 2019, paired with worldwide lockdowns, infected millions of people and is still prevalent today.

Common COVID-19 symptoms include cold or flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, fever or sore throat – but it doesn’t stop there. Many people are still experiencing the lingering effects of the illness, and 30-60% of people who had COVID-19 are still suffering from unusual symptoms well after recovery, from brain fog and fatigue to loss of smell or taste, and even more serious heart issues. This mysterious virus isn’t as cut-and-dry as getting sick for a week and returning back to normal – and doctors and medical professionals are still researching its after-effects, especially when it comes to heart health.

The Link Between COVID-19 and Heart Health

There is an association between COVID and heart health, causing long-haul COVID heart problems. One reason for this is that intense inflammation often occurs in the body in severe COVID cases, which can contribute to an increased risk of heart attacks. Other factors include:

  • A lack of oxygen – The COVID illness causes increased inflammation and fluid in the body, specifically in the lungs, which prohibits enough oxygen from reaching the bloodstream. So, the heart has to work harder to pump blood through the body – a dangerous effect for people with pre-existing heart conditions. This can cause heart failure due to overwork, or heart area organ damage due to cell death.
  • Myocarditis: inflammation of the heart – COVID-19 may infect and damage the heart muscle directly, or it may be damaged by the compromised immune system response.
  • Pericarditis: This describes swelling around the heart. Those with myocarditis can also develop pericarditis, a swelling and irritation of the thin, saclike tissues surrounding the heart, causing sharp chest pain.
  • Stress cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disorder that alters the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively, causes a surge of chemicals that can stun the heart.
  • Foam cells that cause blockages: Macrophages, a type of white blood cell that ingests pathogens, are compromised from the COVID-19 infection. These cells are also responsible for helping remove cholesterol from blood cells. When they become filled with cholesterol, they’re called foam cells, which can begin to accumulate within the arteries to form plaque, causing blockages.

Does Long-Haul COVID Cause Heart Problems?

You may be wondering if there are heart issues after COVID, or if long-haul COVID causes heart problems, and the answer is yes, it can. A study published in the American College of Cardiology found that patients with long COVID were twice as likely to experience new heart-related issues compared to those who never had COVID. This is most likely due to the prevalence of myocarditis, the inflammation, and infection of the heart muscle that can cause a slew of cardiovascular issues. It’s important to assess your health up to a year after the initial COVID infection as this is the sensitive time when heart issues or other long-haul COVID symptoms can arise. Visit your doctor if you’re experiencing any out-of-the-ordinary symptoms when it comes to your heart and breathing.

Addressing Heart Issues After COVID

Monitoring Your Long COVID Heart Issues

Especially in the first year after the onset of COVID-19, it’s important to be on the lookout for symptoms of COVID-induced myocarditis or other heart-related issues. Notice any shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or chest pain – and immediately seek medical help if you are experiencing these symptoms. Always consult with your doctor first to address which long-haul COVID heart issues you may be facing.

If your doctor does diagnose you with COVID-induced myocarditis, it’s best to refrain from competitive sports for 3 to 6 months, and then assess how you’re doing after that and consult with them again. Because this is such a new issue, many studies are still being done that you could qualify for: including antiviral therapies, immunosuppressive therapies, and other clinical trials and studies being done. Discuss with your doctor whether to cut back on exercise (or in some cases, exercises may truly help the issue). As research continues, it’s best to follow heart-healthy protocols such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising, and practicing stress-reduction techniques.

How Can I Tell If I Have Developed A Heart Problem After COVID-19?

It’s important, especially within the first year after your diagnosis of COVID-19 to be on the lookout for symptoms that could point to a resulting heart issue. This includes:

Shortness of Breath

When you feel like you can’t catch your breath that may be intensified during exercise, it may be an indication you have an underlying heart issue from COVID.

Heart Palpitations

If you notice fluttering or irregular heartbeats, it could be an indication that your heart’s electrical rhythm is off.

Chest Pain

A squeezing pressure in your chest can be sharp or dull and can come and go, indicating an issue. Chest pain is considered an emergency, you may need to seek medical attention immediately.

More about Chest pain and Angina

Dizziness

Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or like you’re going to faint is an indication your blood pressure may have dropped.

Fast Beating/Pounding Heart

If your heart feels like it’s “beating out of your chest” especially without any activity to provoke it, it may indicate a heart-related issue.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical help right away to rule out any potential more lethal issues.

Preventative Measures and Long-Term Care

Protecting Your Heart Before and After COVID-19

  • The first crucial thing to do if you’re worried about your heart health after COVID is to consult with your doctor. You’ll discuss your medical history and your symptoms, and they may conduct several cardiac tests to make sure your heart is functioning properly. 
  • Continue (or start) a heart-healthy lifestyle and diet, maintain a healthy weight, get plenty of exercise throughout the week, eat a heart-healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (as well as healthy proteins), stay hydrated, manage stress and get plenty of sleep and rest. 
  • Consider cardiac rehabilitation – If you’re experiencing heart issues due to COVID-19, your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation. This is program of exercise, counseling, and education protocols to help you recover from your unique heart issues to get back to health.

Integrative Solutions for Heart Problems After Covid

1 in 5 adults are still suffering from post-COVID symptoms, and we’re here to help. Learn more about Long-Haul COVID and heart health at Forum Health Advanced Therapies and get the assurance and help you need today.

Understanding Heart Problems After COVID

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    It’s possible to experience a renewed sense of wellbeing with our Long Haul COVID treatments—schedule your consultation with a Forum Health clinic today.

    FAQ & Additional Details

    Studies have shown there’s a rise in heart attack deaths, specifically among younger adults, following the beginning of COVID. This is likely due to the body’s inflammatory response that can destabilize fatty deposits in arteries, potentially leading to blood clots and heart attacks. And, the stress of the pandemic overall doesn’t help when it comes to those already at risk of heart attacks.

    Yes, COVID can cause heart problems, however it does not affect everyone who gets COVID – just a small percent. COVID can cause an increased risk of: myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart), atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beats), and blood clots. 

    While there are no clear numbers, it’s found that those with cardiovascular disease may aggravate pneumonia and increase risk of death compared to healthy individuals. And aside from having heart disease, specific factors such as age, body mass index (BMI), race and ethnicity, and a history of smoking, are all contributing factors that are more likely to cause death than just the heart disease itself. 

    For more information about heart risk factors, visit heart.org.

    There is growing evidence that COVID-19 can cause a stroke, even months after the initial illness. It’s important to be aware of any odd symptoms up to a year after the initial illness, and to take any necessary precautions if you have health risks. 

    Yes, COVID can cause an irregular heartbeat in some cases, also known as an arrhythmia. This is caused by inflammation to the heart, directly impacting the heart muscle cells, and myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle – all disrupting the electrical signals leading to arrhythmias.

    Yes, COVID can cause heart palpitations in some cases. This is likely due to the inflammation around the heart that negatively interacts with electrical signals, causing the heart’s normal rhythm to be “off”. 

    • The first crucial thing to do if you’re worried about your heart health after COVID, is to consult with your doctor. Discuss your medical history, and they may conduct several cardiac tests to see if your heart is functioning properly. 
    • Continue (or start) a heart-healthy lifestyle and diet -  maintain a healthy weight, get plenty of exercise throughout the week, eat a heart-healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (as well as healthy proteins), stay hydrated, manage stress and get plenty of sleep and rest.
    • Consider cardiac rehabilitation - If you’re experiencing heart issues due to COVID-19, your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation. This is a program of exercise, counseling, and education to help you recover from your unique heart issues to get back to health.

    Sources & Citations

    Ferdinando Carlo Sasso, Editor, “Effects of the pre-existing coronary heart disease on the prognosis of COVID-19 patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis”, PLoS One. 2023; 18(10): e0292021. Published online 2023 Oct 10

    “How Can COVID-19 Affect the Heart?”, Myocarditis News, Aug. 18

    Michael Merschel, American Heart Association News, “Beyond breathing: How COVID-19 affects your heart, brain and other organs”, American Heart Association, January 16, 2024

    Nicole Napoli, “Individuals with Long COVID More Likely to Experience Heart Problems”, American College of Cardiology, Feb 23, 2023. 

    Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome (PACS) Clinic, Stanford Medicine Health Care

    Saikun Wang, Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Methodology, Writing – original draft,# 1 Ruiting Zhu, Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing – original draft,# 1 Chengwei Zhang, Formal analysis, Investigation, 2 Yingze Guo, Data curation, 1 Mengjiao Lv, Validation, 1 Changyue Zhang, Resources, 1 Ce Bian, Formal analysis, 1 Ruixue Jiang, Software, 1 Wei Zhou, Supervision, Writing – review & editing, 3 ,* and Lirong Guo, Conceptualization, Supervision, Writing – review & editing 1 ,*

    SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers pro-atherogenic inflammatory responses in human coronary vessels. Eberhardt N, Noval MG, Kaur R, Sajja S, Amadori L, Das D, Cilhoroz B, Stewart O, Fernandez DM, Shamailova R, Guillen AV, Jangra S, Schotsaert M, Gildea M, Newman JD, Faries P, Maldonado T, Rockman C, Rapkiewicz A, Stapleford KA, Narula N, Moore KJ, Giannarelli C. Nat Cardiovasc Res. 2023 Sep 28:2023.08.14.553245. doi: 10.1101/2023.08.14.553245. Preprint. PMID: 37645908

    Wendy Susan Post, M.D., M.S., Nisha Aggarwal Giltora, M.D., “Heart Problems After COVID-19”, John Hopkins Medicine, updated April 28, 2022.

    Yee Hui Yeo, Maggie Wang, Xinyuan He, Fan Lv, Yue Zhang, Jian Zu, Mei Li, Yang Jiao, Joseph E. Ebinger, Jignesh K. Patel, Susan Cheng, Fanpu Ji, “Excess risk for acute myocardial infarction mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic”, Journal of Medical Virology, 13, 29 September 2022