Although most severe cases of the novel coronavirus involve respiratory failure, new research has found that the virus may also infect the heart and its surrounding muscles. Sometimes fatal, this may also lead to longer term damage- and not just in people with underlying conditions; reports have emerged that people without pre-existing cardiovascular issues have also developed heart complications from the virus.
Dr Mohammad Madjid, the lead author of the research said, “It is likely that even in the absence of previous heart disease, the heart muscle can be affected by coronavirus disease...Overall, injury to heart muscle can happen in any patient with or without heart disease, but the risk is higher in those who already have heart disease.”
For the study, Madjid and his team reviewed an array of existing studies both on COVID-19 and related viruses. In particular, they noted that those with pre-existing heart conditions were more likely to be infected and to die from the virus, and were also more likely to develop further heart injuries.
They also noted that respiratory viruses may trigger heart problems in healthy patients too. For example, they noted that during most flu epidemics, more patients tend to die from heart complications than respiratory issues like pneumonia, and that many develop arrhythmias, heart failure and acute coronary syndromes. Although evidence is lacking to suggest this to be the case with the novel coronavirus too, the researchers say that they expect similar cardiac issues among severe cases of the novel coronavirus to arise.
One such example comes from a study highlighting a case of a 53-year-old healthy woman without a history of heart disease or other underlying health conditions. Although having had a fever and a dry cough, doctors reported that she had no difficulty breathing and that her chest X-rays were clear. However, they then found that the lining of her heart was both inflamed and infected, and that she indeed had the coronavirus.
But how did this happen? Although uncertain, the researchers have two possible theories. The first is that the virus spread from her lungs via the bloodstream or the lymphatic system to eventually reach her heart. Another is that the coronavirus may have triggered an inflammatory response in her body, thus causing her heart to become damaged.