Does COVID-19 Affect Your Heart? A Guide to COVID-19 Heart Problems

COVID-19 affects people differently, and studies show that one in four COVID-19 patients develop long-term symptoms. Although a person’s age, the severity of the case, and prior health are significant factors, people without these conditions can also experience long-term systems from COVID 19.

Some of these long-term symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, heart palpitations, and chest pain. These symptoms can be related to heart issues.

Are you worried you have COVID-19 heart problems? How can you tell if your symptoms are related to your heart? Keep reading to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on your heart and when you should see a doctor.

How COVID-19 Causes Heart Damage

The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) can damage the heart in various ways. For instance, the virus can directly invade and inflame your heart muscle. This can harm the heart because it disrupts the oxygen supply to the heart and your body’s overall demand for blood flow.

This heart injury is measured by finding elevated levels of the enzyme troponin in your bloodstream.  The troponin enzyme was detected in about one-quarter of patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 conditions. Of these patients, only one-third had pre-existing cardiovascular problems.

Possible COVID-19 Heart Problems

The cells in your heart have receptors where the coronavirus can attach before entering the cells. This causes the heart to become inflamed. As your body’s immune system fights this virus, the body also starts an inflammatory process that damages some of your healthier tissues, including your heart.

The coronavirus infection also can affect the inner layers of arteries and veins. This causes blood vessel inflammation, blood clots, and damage to smaller vessels.  These issues interfere with the blood flow from your heart to the other parts of your body. Severe COVID-19 conditions can also affect the lining of the blood vessels by attaching and attacking endothelial cells that line blood vessels and lymphatic vessels.

Heart Muscle Inflammation

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. This condition can result from the direct heart invasion by the coronavirus. It is also caused by the cytokine storm when the body produces too many inflammatory signals.

When this happens, the heart becomes enlarged and is also weakened, leading to fluid in the lungs and low blood pressure. This severe form of myocarditis is usually rare, and milder heart muscle inflammation is more common.

Decreased Oxygen Supply

When you have an infection and fever, your heart rate speeds up, which increases your heart’s workload. If you have or had pneumonia, this can increase the impact of COVID-19 on your heart.

Blood pressure can spike or drop, and that causes even more stress on your heart. The increase in oxygen demand also leads to heart damage, especially if any of your arteries or muscles are already unhealthy.

Heart attacks cause the most damage to the heart. This damage results from some form of a blood clot in a vulnerable artery that then blocks oxygen from reaching the heart muscle. COVID-19 inflammation can also raise this type of heart attack risk because the body’s clotting system is activated and disrupts the lining in the blood vessels. When this blood vessel lining is inflamed, it can result in the formation of blood clots. These clots can be in both the small and large arteries of the heart, causing the oxygen supply to be cut off. This increased clotting risk can also lead to blood clots in your lungs, causing a drop in blood oxygen levels. Having severe pneumonia drops blood oxygen levels even further. When you have more demand for oxygen than your oxygen supply, your heart muscle can suffer damage.

Other Heart Problems After COVID-19 Recovery

Even after your COVID recovery period, there are other symptoms you might find even as you are past the infection period. People recovering or who have recovered from COVID can also show signs of POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). This isn’t a direct heart issue like the other conditions mentioned above. It is a neurological condition that affects part of the nervous system that regulates your body’s blood flow and heart rate. This syndrome also causes rapid heartbeats at different times, like when you stand up. This condition can also cause fatigue, brain fog, lightheadedness, palpitations, and other symptoms.

Pre-Existing Heart Conditions or Heart Problems Due to COVID

Since this coronavirus is still new, research is still being conducted to help fully understand risk factors. However, just like other respiratory viruses, some people with underlying conditions and advanced age are at higher risk for hospitalization from COVID-19.  One such underlying condition is cardiovascular or heart issues resulting in more severe COVID-19 problems.

When you have COVID-19, you may wonder if you always had a pre-existing heart condition that you may not have known about or if COVID-19 caused your heart issues. It’s hard to determine because there are otherwise healthy patients who experience heart problems like myocarditis. Some also develop an acute COVID-19 cardiovascular syndrome that causes various problems like heart failure or arrhythmias.

No matter the reason for your heart issues, you need to monitor your condition and watch for the following symptoms to discuss with your doctor.

Signs of Concern

Many people are fatigued for an extended period after COVID-19. They don’t have the exertion level they did before infection, and it’s difficult to decide if the lungs need more time to heal or if it’s a cardiac problem. If you start to feel better with time, that’s a good sign.

You may not be as active as you previously were while recovering from COVID. Deconditioning can occur. This can make you short of breath when you push yourself. However, you should be on the lookout for these symptoms that indicate you may have heart complications after recovering from COVID-19. These include:

  • Unusual and persistent fatigue
  • Heart palpitations or feeling like your heart is skipping a beat
  • Shortness of breath that doesn’t seem to improve
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness when you stand
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort

If you feel any of the above symptoms or feel like you might pass out, you should contact a healthcare provider immediately. These symptoms may indicate heart complications like myocarditis.

What Will Your Doctor Do?

Since other factors can cause these symptoms after battling COVID-19, your doctor will want to first evaluate any heart symptoms to rule out heart problems.

This evaluation could include checking for dehydration. You may even be asked to wear an electrocardiogram for 24 hours to monitor your heart rate and rhythm. In addition, your doctor may order an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of your heart, to check for any cardiac damage.

In addition, your doctor may check your orthostatic blood pressure. Your doctor will check your blood pressure while in various positions, including lying down, sitting, and standing.

Having a Healthier Lifestyle

If your doctor diagnoses you with COVID-19 myocarditis, you will most likely need to refrain from competitive sports for a few months. After this period, you will have an exam and determine proper exercise levels with a treadmill test. Your doctor will determine treatment based on that specific heart condition for other heart problems.

You can reduce your long-term risk of cardiovascular disease by living a healthier lifestyle, including a healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, and getting plenty of physical activity. If you are recovering from COVID-19, you will need to be patient with your body and learn your limitations.

Try things like taking short walks outside and cooking at home with healthier ingredients. You may even want to purchase a blood pressure monitor to see how your body reacts to various activities.

Getting Medical Treatment

The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for everyone. Researchers and medical professionals are finding out more daily about this disease and the lasting effects of COVID-19 on our bodies.

If you feel like you have any of the heart-related symptoms above, it’s important to call your doctor immediately to look for any COVID-19 heart problems. You should get emergency medical attention if any of your symptoms are severe.

Vital Heart & Vein has diagnostic testing capabilities and procedures to help diagnose and treat cardiovascular and circulatory diseases. We offer you personalized treatment options based on your condition.

If you are experiencing new symptoms after COVID-19, we understand you may be nervous and scared. We are here to answer your questions and help you determine the cause of your symptoms.

Request an appointment with Vital Heart & Vein today. We want to help you get back to your best possible self.