Covid-19: Why patients must get their heart checked post recovery

Doctors say that while the recovery rate is encouraging for many Covid-positive patients in India, there are some after-effects of the disease, which can cause long-term health issues. In fact, a recent study by the Oxford journal has revealed nearly 50 per cent of people hospitalised with severe COVID-19 have shown evidence of heart damage months after recovering from the disease.

It, therefore, becomes important for patients to get their heart checked after making recovery, Dr Ravi Kumar, senior consultant and clinical lead, Heart Failure and Transplantation, MGM Healthcare, tells

“COVID-19 infection triggers inflammation in the body that may lead to weakening of the heart muscle, abnormalities in heart rhythm, and even cause clot formation in blood vessels. Second, the virus may directly invade receptor cells, known as ACE2 receptors, within the myocardial tissue and cause direct viral harm. These complications — such as myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle, could lead to an increase in heart failure overtime. For people with pre-existing heart diseases, this can result in advancement in the issue or rise of different heart ailments,” he explains.

Heart failure

Dr Kumar says that heart failure occurs when the “heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should”. “Certain conditions — such as narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure — gradually leave your heart weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently. This is a chronic condition and it gets worse. Medications and therapy can help a patient live longer and better with it. Heart failure can be fatal depending on the severity.”

The doctor advises that for patients who have recently developed chest pains post-COVID-19, or had a minor heart disease prior to being infected, getting an imaging test can be helpful. “The test can show if the virus has caused lasting damage to the heart muscles. It is advised even for people who only experienced mild COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr Kumar states some patients develop chronic heart muscle weakness and cardiac enlargement, and low heart ejection fraction after viral illnesses — a condition called ‘dilated cardiomyopathy’.

Cardiomyopathies are known to worsen after diseases like Covid. This may lead to heart failure.

The treatment

In the initial stages of heart failure, medication can help manage the condition, in case of advanced heart failure, treatment options such an LVAD procedure or a heart transplant along with therapy are necessary. “An LVAD (left ventricular assist device) helps the left ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart) pump blood to the rest of the body. It is a feasible and safe option for management of the condition,” recommends Dr Kumar.

The virus may directly invade receptor cells, known as ACE2 receptors, within the myocardial tissue and cause direct viral harm, Dr Kumar warns.
(Photo: Pixabay)

Heart failure signs and symptoms:

– Shortness of breath
– Fatigue and weakness
– Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
– Rapid or irregular heartbeat
– Reduced ability to exercise
– Persistent cough
– Increased need to urinate
– Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention
– Lack of appetite and nausea

“Although these signs and symptoms may be due to heart failure, there are many other possible causes, including other life-threatening heart conditions hence it is advised not to self-diagnose and instead immediately visit your doctor. They can stabilize your condition and determine if your symptoms are due to heart failure or something else,” the doctor concludes.

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