Even in Mild Cases, Covid-19 Could Damage the Heart
The coronavirus and the heart have a complicated relationship
Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that a large percentage of the deaths caused by Covid-19 were related to cardiovascular problems. In March, a study revealed that more than 25% of people hospitalized for the novel coronavirus had signs of heart damage, and nearly a third of those people had no underlying cardiovascular disease. A more recent evaluation of autopsies performed on people who died from Covid-19 found inflammation and injury to the heart in 86% of cases.
Perhaps even more alarming, evidence of heart damage has not only been reported in serious cases of Covid-19, but also in mild or asymptomatic ones. One study looking at college athletes who’d tested positive for the virus but had mild or even no symptoms found signs of inflammation in cardiac MRI scans in 15% of the athletes. And researchers from Germany found that 78% of people who’d recovered from Covid-19 showed similar abnormalities on MRI scans of their hearts taken two months later.
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These findings have caused some experts to raise the question of whether Covid-19 should be categorized as a disease of the heart as well as a respiratory infection, and if everyone who tests positive for the virus should be screened for cardiovascular complications. But other scientists and clinicians have pushed back, saying that panic over the virus’s effect on the heart, especially in mild cases, is premature.
An abnormal MRI could mean myocarditis — or it could not
At the root of the debate is whether or not the abnormal cardiac MRIs in people with mild or asymptomatic Covid-19 are evidence of cardiovascular damage that could cause serious complications, like heart failure or arrhythmias. One interpretation of the abnormalities seen in the scans is that they are evidence of myocarditis — inflammation of the heart cells caused by the body’s immune response to a viral…