Can coronavirus directly affect your heart?
Unfortunately, yes. Whilst many other viral infections can cause a type of heart inflammation called myocarditis or pericarditis, we have learnt that this specific (COVID-19) coronavirus can cause this more often and more aggressively. Whilst some people affected by coronavirus only have mild types of heart related symptoms (for example, mild chest pains and abnormal blood tests), others unfortunately develop a more aggressive type of myocarditis, which can lead to heart muscle failure and potential fatality. However, this is still a rare phenomenon. Amongst those who catch the virus, the more aggressive type of myocarditis affects well below 1% of cases.
Some people also develop symptoms that might suggest a heart problem during their recovery from COVID-19, feeling breathless, fatigued and experiencing chest pains (all symptoms of heart disease), but in fact the heart may not be involved at all. Only through a careful clinical assessment and via heart scans, we cardiologists can tell whether or not the heart has been affected.
Are people with previous heart conditions at higher risk during a COVID-19 infection?
We learned very early in the pandemic that unfortunately, yes, people with previous heart conditions are at higher risk during a COVID-19 infection. Whilst other viruses, such as the Flu and other types of respiratory infections tend to more aggressively affect people with lung disease or the very elderly, COVID-19 is particularly more fatal amongst people with previous heart conditions (such as heart failure, angina or previous heart attacks). Also, even those individuals at risk of developing heart disease such as people with diabetes, hypertension and those who are significantly overweight have poorer outcomes when they catch COVID-19, compared to people with a healthier profile, of the same age. People with previous heart disease are therefore considered a vulnerable group.
Pragmatically, what can you do to protect your heart during the pandemic?
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