Each February, American Heart Month is recognized with a goal of improving heart health and preventing heart disease. This year, living through a pandemic has brought a new focus to this effort, since it has been found that those with poor cardiovascular health have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Learn more about COVID-19 and your heart as well as risk factors, warning signs and ways to improve heart health from experts at Baylor College of Medicine.
COVID-19 and the Cardiovascular System
COVID-19 was first thought of as a virus that only affected the lungs, but doctors are finding that it can have a wide range of lasting effects to other organs including the heart and the cardiovascular system. Doctors say that COVID-19 can weaken cardiac muscles in some patients even without a severe infection or hospitalization. Current research is working on identifying exactly how the virus is affecting the heart, but the exact mechanisms at play are still unknown
How does COVID-19 affects the cardiovascular system?
- The heart can be damaged if oxygen levels decrease. If the lungs are not functioning properly due to a COVID-19 infection, the amount of oxygen circulating through the body is decreased. Lack of oxygen can cause heart failure symptoms, inflammation, and can lead to damage to the heart muscle.
- Viral infections can damage the heart, and it appears COVID is no exception. Some viruses are associated with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle which can affect the heart’s ability to pump properly, sometimes leading to arrhythmias. In severe cases the heart muscle can be weakened which can lead to heart attack or stroke. The COVID-19 virus is similar to other viruses that are known to cause myocarditis.
- Cytokin storm could affect the heart. A cytokine storm is an immune response where the body’s immune system floods the blood stream with inflammatory proteins called cytokines, attacking healthy cells as well as the infection. Those suffering from COVID-19 have been known to experience this type of response, with inflammation being triggered in multiple organs leading to tissue damage. If the heart is affected, cardiac muscle can be damaged leading to heart failure.
- COVID-19 might increase your risk of blood clots. The virus has been found to have a thrombogenic affect, meaning some people hospitalized have an increased risk of blood clots forming. It is not clear if this is caused by the overactive immune system (cytokine storm) or a direct cause of the virus. While more studies are needed, doctors are finding that a test known as TEG can help identify those who are at a higher risk for developing blood clots while hospitalized with COVID-19. Learn more here.