• Chances are, by now, you know that COVID-19 is serious. But just in case you didn’t — or if you didn’t want to believe it — new data show that even mild cases of corona virus infections may pose more severe risks than have been previously reported.

A new study of 200 COVID-19 patients between the ages of 18 and 83 revealed that more than 75% of participants with mild cases of COVID-19 between June and August 2021 with elevated troponin (a protein that regulates muscle contraction) showed signs of cardiac injury. What does that mean and how can you stay safe? Read on to find out.

• COVID-19 May Cause Cardiac Injury

The study released in May 2024 revealed that three in four patients had MRI scans showing signs of cardiac injury after recovering from mild cases of COVID-19.

• What does that even mean?

It’s a general term for heart conditions. The most commonly observed in the study included:

* Blood clots
* Breathing difficulty
* Cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
* Chest pain
* Dizziness and fainting upon standing
* Inflammatory lesion

The study claimed that cardiac injuries were most concentrated among study participants between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.

Other symptoms observed included myocarditis among 45% of participants and “supersensitive troponin” among 73% of participants; supersensitive troponin may cause heartbeat irregularities.

•There is some good news:

According to the study, impacts lessened somewhat over time, with a five to 10% reduction in symptoms after 60 days and a 25- to 35% decrease in symptoms after 90 days.

Additionally, context matters, says Dr. Rigved V. Tadwalkar, MD, a board-certified consultative cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “It is important to recognize that these complications are not a common consequence of COVID-19 infection—the study population specifically focused on patients with elevated troponin levels during hospitalization, indicating some degree of pre-existing heart injury,” he explains.

• Why Does COVID-19 Cause

Heart Problems?
Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, MD, board-certified cardiologist and lipidologist at Memorial Care Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, says the biggest link between COVID-19 and cardiac injury is likely “the highly inflammatory nature of the disease.”

“It is noted that many patients developed at least low-level heart injury, as measured by troponin levels, and that cardiovascular symptoms took longer than other symptoms to recover from,” Dr. Ni adds. “We similarly studied 90 patients when I worked at Scripps Clinic in San Diego and identified high rates of cardiovascular and GI side effects as well.”

According to Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, MD, a board-certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, “The methods by which COVID-19 causes these conditions is not entirely clear but is thought to be related to the damage caused by the COVID-19 to the linings of the blood vessels in our body, leading to increased inflammation.”

“The exact cause of these cardiovascular complications following COVID-19 infection is an area of active investigation. As an observational study, this research does not definitively answer whether COVID-19 directly results in these conditions,” Dr. Tadwalkar explains. “Scientifically, there are two likely mechanisms: direct viral invasion and/or indirect inflammatory response. The virus itself may have the potential to infiltrate heart cells, causing direct damage and inflammation. Additionally, COVID-19 is known to trigger a significant inflammatory response throughout the body. This systemic inflammation can also reach the heart and its surrounding tissues, leading to damage and dysfunction. Both mechanisms may probably be at play to varying degrees in different individuals.”

That said, cardiologists agree that more research is necessary to determine a definitive answer.

• How Can You Protect Yourself From COVID-19-Related Cardiovascular Issues?

Get your COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
Your first step: Get your COVID-19 vaccine and boosters! And if you think you’re at risk of myocarditis as a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine, well, we have some important details for you especially.

“Rare instances of myocarditis have been reported following mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in younger males. However, it is necessary to consider these events in context: The risk of myocarditis following vaccination is significantly lower than the risk associated with COVID-19 infection itself,” Dr. Tadwalkar says. “These cases are typically mild and respond well to established treatments.”

He adds that major health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association continue to recommend COVID-19 vaccination for eligible individuals, emphasizing the benefits in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 compared to the rare potential side effects, particularly in at-risk populations.

“If you have any concerns about COVID-19 vaccination and your individual risk factors, discussing them with a trusted physician is always recommended,” he notes. “They can provide you with the most up-to-date information and guidance tailored to your specific situation.”

• If you do get infected, exercise once you’ve recovered.

Exercising according to your personal fitness level is a great way to protect your heart once you’ve recovered from COVID-19—and all the time, Dr. Ni says. As an added bonus, it can also help increase air movement in your lungs.

• Eat a healthy diet

To keep your heart and body healthy, you’ll want to eat plenty of vegetables, fruit and whole grains, Dr. Tadwalker recommends.

• Manage stress

Getting COVID-19 is obviously going to be a stressful ordeal, even if it’s a mild case. Try to manage your stress not just during infection and recovery, but overall, because stress can do a number on your heart and blood pressure even if you’re otherwise healthy, cardiologists advise. Whether it means going for a walk, journaling, venting to your dog, finding a therapist or delegating some of your workload or household tasks, find what works for you.

• Consider supplements

According to Dr. Ni, small studies have suggested that vitamin C, vitamin D, turmeric and curcumin may show some benefit in patients with COVID-19: “I generally tell my patients after COVID infection to take the above three supplements, with an emphasis on natural forms of vitamin C, such as citrus fruits.”

• Talk to your doctor

You need to keep your physician informed about your health and lifestyle in order to make sure they can provide proper care.

“If an individual has pre-existing cardiovascular conditions, it is important to continue following the doctor’s recommendations for medication and lifestyle modifications,” Dr. Tadwalkar advises. “Open communication is the key. It is also of value to report any new or persistent symptoms following COVID-19 infection, especially those that might suggest cardiovascular concerns, such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, or irregular heartbeats. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes. However, it is important to remember that while some risk exists, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases do not result in long-term cardiovascular complications.”


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