COVID-19 Survivors At High Risk For Cardiovascular Complications: Scientists

People who survived the acute phase of a COVID-19 infection could still suffer from other complications, such as cardiovascular issues, months after their bout with the virus. Scientists discovered this after observing COVID survivors for at least a year. 

Cardiovascular Complications Post-Recovery

In a study published earlier this month in the journal Nature Medicine, a team of scientists indicated that the SARS-CoV-2 infection has other serious effects on health apart from the acute phase of the disease. They found that survivors could suffer from heart issues months after recovery. 

For the study, the researchers collected data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs national health care databases. They then focused their attention on more than 153,000 individuals who battled COVID but survived the infection. 

After observing the individuals for up to a year post-recovery, the scientists found that compared to those who did not contract SARS-CoV-2, they were at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The survivors reportedly experienced various heart problems, including inflammatory heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure, dysrhythmia, strokes and blood clotting. 

“These risks and burdens were evident even among individuals who were not hospitalized during the acute phase of the infection and increased in a graded fashion according to the care setting during the acute phase (non-hospitalized, hospitalized and admitted to intensive care),” the team wrote in the study. 

The researchers also pointed out that after examining all of the data they gathered, they found a 60% probability for people with previous COVID-19 infections to develop cardiac issues months after recovery. Most of the issues, particularly pulmonary embolisms, could be life-threatening to the survivors. 

They noted that their findings provided evidence on the increased risk for cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 survivors, adding that since their data are substantial, health care workers should also pay attention to cardiovascular health while treating acute infection patients. 

Relating Disease Severity And Risk

Based on the team’s analysis, the risk of cardiovascular complications in the survivors increased depending on the severity of their acute infections. People who had to be treated in Intensive Care Units showed the highest risk for heart problems post-recovery. 

COVID survivors treated in the ICU were over 21 times more likely to have pulmonary embolism — a clot in a blood vessel — than those who did not contract COVID-19. On the other hand, those who did not need hospitalization while battling acute illness were only twice as likely to have an embolism, said the team. 

The risk for heart problems was found across all ages, sexes, races and cardiac risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure, according to the team. But CNN pointed out that most of the people in the research were White men. Moreover, most of them were unvaccinated since the study enrollment period ended on Jan. 15. 2021, before the vaccines were widely available. 

Among the cardiac issues listed in the study, NYU Langone cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg, who was not part of the team, told CNN that she mostly observed arrhythmias in her patients. Thankfully, the problem went away after several months. 

“In my own practice, I was more likely to see people who had more of the arrhythmias or report a rapid heartbeat after the Covid infection. Many times, over several months, the heart rate came down and improved,” she said. 

For Dr. Goldberg, it was not unusual to find survivors with certain risk factors to develop cardiac complications post-COVID. What surprised her was how some people with no history of cardiac disease experienced long-term cardiac complications after their bout with the virus. She said that area should be explored as the world continues to grapple with the pandemic. 

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