Ask the Expert: Post-COVID effects on the heart

February is American Heart Month, which is observed to raise awareness on the importance of a healthy heart and encourage healthy habits to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 600,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, making it the number one cause of death for most groups. Heart disease can affect all ages, genders, and ethnicities. The most commonly known risk factors that lead to heart disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and excessive alcohol use. However, studies are now showing possible long-term cardiovascular effects from COVID-19.

Dr. Michael Moran is a cardiologist at IU Health Ball.
Dr. Michael Moran is a cardiologist at IU Health Ball.

What are some post-COVID effects on the heart?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can cause inflammation throughout the body. Some people that get COVID-19 suffer from post-COVID-19 syndrome. Post-COVID-19 syndrome is defined as new, returning or ongoing symptoms that are experienced for more than four weeks after initially being infected. Research has shown that COVID-19 can cause too much inflammation in some people, which can cause damage to their heart in multiple ways. Atrial fibrillation, blood clots, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart wall), pericarditis (inflammation of the sack that surrounds the heart), and heart failure are some of the known side effects from post-COVID-19 syndrome. People with known cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or high cholesterol are at an even higher risk of further heart complications.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

It is important for everyone to have routine wellness checks with their healthcare provider. However, if you have had COVID-19 and are experiencing fast heartbeats, difficulty breathing, swelling in your legs, or have pain in your chest, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately. Be prepared for your appointment by knowing when your symptoms started, how often or when you experience these symptoms, and how your symptoms affect your daily activities. Your healthcare provider may order other tests such as a complete blood count, an EKG, echocardiogram, stress test, or chest x-ray depending on your symptoms. The results from any of these tests performed, along with any information you provide on your symptoms will help your provider formulate a treatment plan specific for you. If your symptoms are severe, please go to the nearest emergency room.

What can you do to reduce the risks?

  • Take care of your health – Good overall health is important to keep your heart healthy. Make sure you are staying active and eating healthy foods.

  • Avoid people who are sick with flu like symptoms

  • See a doctor for lingering symptoms – It can take up to six weeks for COVID symptoms to subside, but if you have lingering symptoms, it’s a good idea to get checked out by your healthcare provider.

  • Get vaccinated for covid 19 and influenza – It is important to get vaccinated to help reduced the risk of infection and severity of the illness.

Dr. Michael Moran is a cardiologist at IU Health Ball.

This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Ask the Expert: Post-COVID effects on the heart