Having the lingering symptoms known as long COVID after a COVID-19 infection more than doubles the risk of developing new heart symptoms, according to new research.
“COVID-19 is more than a simple respiratory disease — it is a syndrome that can affect the heart,” said lead study author Joanna Lee, a medical student at David Tvildiani Medical University in the country of Georgia and a member of the Global Remote Research Scholars Program.
Researchers from the scholars program reviewed 11 major studies involving a total of 5.8 million people to examine cardiovascular complications from long COVID.
Consistent evidence showed that people with long COVID were significantly more likely than those who never had COVID-19 to experience symptoms associated with heart problems. These included chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations and fatigue, the research team noted.
These individuals were also more likely to show markers of heart disease or elevated cardiovascular risk in medical imaging and diagnostic tests.
“Clinicians should be aware that cardiac complications can exist and investigate further if a patient complains of these symptoms, even a long time after contracting COVID-19,” Lee said in a news release from the American College of Cardiology.
“For patients, if you had COVID-19 and you continue to have difficulty breathing or any kind of new heart problems, you should go to the doctor and get it checked out,” Lee said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly one in five U.S. adults who has had COVID-19 ended up with lingering symptoms.
For this study, the researchers defined long COVID as symptoms persisting for at least four weeks and occurring at least two months after the initial COVID-19 infection. Although patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease were included in the samples, their symptoms were only counted as cardiovascular complications of long COVID if they emerged after the COVID-19 infection.
To study this, the investigators identified 11 studies published between 2020 and 2022 that had cardiovascular data on people with long COVID plus a control group of people who never had COVID-19.
Almost 450,000 of the people in those studies experienced cardiac complications. The rate of cardiac complications for those with long COVID was 2.3 to 2.5 times higher compared with those in the control group.
“Coordinated efforts among primary care providers, emergency room staff and cardiologists could help with early detection and mitigation of cardiac complications among long COVID patients,” Lee said.
The findings are scheduled for presentation March 6 in New Orleans at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology and the World Heart Federation. Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on long COVID.
SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, news release, Feb. 23, 2023