Shelby Hedgecock contracted coronavirus in April and thought she had got through the worst of it — the intense headaches, severe gastrointestinal distress and debilitating fatigue — but she was wrong.
Early last month she started experiencing chest pain and a pounding heartbeat. Her doctor put her on a cardiac monitor and ordered blood tests, which indicated that the previously healthy 29-year-old had sustained heart damage, likely from her bout with COVID-19.
“I never thought I would have to worry about a heart attack at 29 years old,” Ms Hedgecock told Yahoo News in the US.
“I didn’t have any complications before COVID-19 — no preexisting conditions, no heart issues. I can deal with my taste and smell being dull, I can fight through the debilitating fatigue, but your heart has to last you a really long time.”
Ms Hedgecock’s doctor has referred her to a cardiologist she will see this week as the heart monitor revealed that her pulse rate is wildly irregular, ranging from 49 to 189 beats per minute, and she has elevated inflammatory markers and platelet counts.
A former personal trainer who is now out of breath just from walking around the room, Ms Hedgecock is worried about what the future holds.
She is far from alone in her struggle. Dr Ossama Samuel is a cardiologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, where he routinely sees coronavirus survivors who are contending with cardiac complications.
Dr Samuel said his team has treated three young and otherwise healthy coronavirus patients who have developed myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle — weeks to months after recovering from the virus.
Myocarditis particularly harmful for athletes
Myocarditis can affect how the heart pumps blood and trigger rapid or abnormal heart rhythms. It is particularly dangerous for athletes, doctors say, because it can go undetected and can result in a heart attack during strenuous exercise.
In recent weeks, some collegiate athletes have reported cardiac complications from the coronavirus, underscoring the seriousness of the condition.
Last month, professional basketball player and former Florida State star Michael Ojo died from a heart attack in Serbia. He had recovered from coronavirus before he collapsed on the basketball court.
An Ohio State University cardiologist found that between 10 and 13 per cent of university athletes who had recovered from COVID-19 had myocarditis. When the Big Ten athletic conference announced the cancellation of its season last month, Commissioner Kevin Warren cited the risk of heart failure in athletes.
Researchers have estimated that up to 20 percent of people who get the coronavirus sustain heart damage.
Dr Samuel said he feels an obligation to warn people, particularly since some of the patients he and Mount Sinai colleagues have seen with myocarditis had only mild cases of the coronavirus months ago.
“We are now seeing people three months after COVID who have pericarditis [inflammation of the sac around the heart] or myocarditis,” he said.
Dr Samuel said he believes a small fraction of coronavirus survivors are sustaining heart damage, “but when a disease is so widespread it is concerning that a tiny fraction is still sizeable.”
Dr Samuel said he worries particularly about athletes participating in team sports, since many live together and spend time in close quarters. Teammates may all get the coronavirus and recover together, Samuel said, but “the one who really gets that crazy myocarditis could be at risk of dying through exercise or training.”
“It’s a concern about what do you do: Should we do sports in general, should we do it in schools, should we do it in college, should we just do it for professionals who understand the risk and they're getting paid?” he wondered. “I hope we don’t scare the public, but we should make people aware.”
Dr Samuel is recommending that patients recovering from COVID-19 with myocarditis avoid workouts for three to six months.
Doctors find ‘astonishingly high level’ of cardiac impact
The medical journal the Lancet recently reported that an 11-year-old child had died of myocarditis and heart failure after a bout of COVID-induced multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). An autopsy showed coronavirus embedded in the child’s cardiac tissue.
A recent study from Germany found that 78 percent of patients who had recovered from the coronavirus and who had only mild to moderate symptoms while ill with the disease had indications of cardiac involvement on MRIs conducted more than two months after their initial infection.
Lead investigator Eike Nagel said it is concerning to see such widespread cardiac impact; six in 10 of the patients Nagel’s team studied experienced ongoing myocardial inflammation.
“We found an astonishingly high level of cardiac involvement approximately two months after COVID infection,” Mr Nagel said in an email. “These changes are much milder than observed in patients with severe acute myocarditis.”
The scale of the cardiac impact on relatively healthy, young patients surprised many doctors. Mr Nagel said the findings are significant “on a population basis”, and that the impact of COVID-19 on the heart must be studied more.
Yahoo News US
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