Coronavirus May Have Significant Effects on The Heart – What Does That Mean for You?
Based on a study from Chinese researchers published at the end of March, there is evidence to show that coronavirus and related consequences may have a profound and lasting effect on the heart. It seems that some patients both with and without a history of underlying heart disease are showing cardiovascular damage after being infected by coronavirus. There are several potential theories as to why this could be the case.
Low Blood Oxygen
Severe cases of coronavirus infection have led to pneumonia, shortness of breath and lower oxygen levels in the blood. With the absence of oxygen, the heart has to pump harder and faster compensate. Just like any other muscle, the heart can be damaged as a result, which is especially true if the heart is already weakened by cardiovascular disease.
We also know that severe cases of coronavirus may be due to an extreme immune response to the virus known as a cytokine storm. While we still don’t fully understand the extent of this phenomenon, some patients’ immune systems are, basically, working too well. As counterintuitive as that seems, the overcompensation by the immune system creates a situation much like an autoimmune disorder, where the body’s infection fighting cells turns on itself. If the immune system begins attacking heart cells, it can cause damage.
Lastly, we don’t yet know if the virus is directly attacking other organs including the heart. While this may seem particularly scary, it is not unprecedented. We know that the influenza virus can cause significant heart issues including arrhythmias and heart failure. Indeed, heart related complications during flu season are very real.
What Does This All Mean for Our Patients?
There’s a lot we don’t know about this virus and so far, it seems that new or worsening heart conditions due to the virus are relatively less common. However, it does show the importance of preventing infection in the first place, by following infection control and social distancing guidelines set forth by our federal and local health departments. Similarly, patients with a higher risk of opportunistic infections due to cardiovascular problems should begin taking important and appropriate steps to improve their diet and lifestyle right away. It is never too late to get healthier and support your immune system