Experts say myocarditis is major cardiovascular effect seen in COVID-19 patients
Experts have previously suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 causing virus) damages the heart muscle cells when it enters these cells through ACE2 receptors
COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets and is said to mainly affect the respiratory system. However, it enters the body through ACE2 receptors present on host cells and seems to affect all organs that have these receptors.
One of the major organs (apart from the lungs) that SARS-CoV-2 affects is the heart. Since endothelial cells (cells that make the inner lining of the blood vessels) contain ACE2 receptors, heart patients are indicated to be more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and complications from the disease.
Myocarditis is one of the major effects reported in coronavirus patients. In a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Thoracic Imaging, it was found that out of 199 COVID-19 patients from 34 different studies, about 40 percent developed the condition.
Earlier in September, an article by the American Heart Association had indicated that about 40 percent of all COVID-19 related deaths occur due to cardiovascular complications.
In another study done in Ohio, myocarditis was seen in about 26 young, active adults with coronavirus disease (both male and female), suggesting that the complication may not be limited to just older adults.
Interestingly, heart injury has been seen in some COVID-19 patients who did not need to be hospitalised or had severe symptoms.
Myocarditis refers to inflammation of the heart muscles. It is a rare condition that shows up in about 10 to 20 people per 100,000 worldwide. The condition leads to weakening and enlargement of the heart and formation of scar tissue in the organ, making it difficult for it to work properly.
Arrhythmia, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and swelling in the legs are some of the symptoms of myocarditis. The condition can gradually lead to heart failure.
Effects of COVID-19 on heart
Experts have previously suggested that SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 causing virus) damages the heart muscle cells when it enters these cells through ACE2 receptors.
Increased cytokine levels and inflammation during SARS-CoV-2 infection can also lead to myocyte (muscle cell) injury.
Additionally, increased cardiometabolic demand due to the infection and reduced tissue oxygen (hypoxia) that occurs in COVID-19 patients due to pneumonia or ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) can further put pressure on and damage the heart muscles.
Electrolyte imbalance, that is associated with most health conditions, could cause severe arrhythmia, which would be worse in heart patients.
Finally, medications like corticosteroid, anti-inflammatory and antiviral drugs can also lead to heart muscle injury and myocarditis.
Ways to manage
Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid the effect of the virus on the heart so far. It is best to be safe and take all the necessary precautions like social distancing, washing hands and wearing a face mask, especially if you are a heart patient.
Hypertension patients on ACE2 inhibitors should not stop taking their medications and if they do get COVID-19 and special care should be taken for their health. Also, any person with cardiac disease should not stop their treatment without asking their doctor first.
If you do get COVID-19, even if it is mild and you are not a heart patient, make sure to stay in contact with your doctor and call them in case of any emergency.
For more information, read our article on Can COVID-19 cause permanent heart damage.
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