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ST. LOUIS – Typically, patients who get COVID-19 have pulmonary problems. But according to the American Heart Association, a growing number of studies suggest many COVID-19 survivors experience some type of heart damage.

To find out more about how COVID-19 can affect the heart, Fox 2’s digital reporter Aprylete Russell spoke to Dr. Justin C. Hartupee a cardiologist who is a Cardiovascular Disease Specialist for Washington University.

Dr. Hatupee suggests eating well, move more, lowering stress, getting plenty of rest, and connecting with others (socially distant of course) to lower your risk of heart problems, regardless of COVID status.

What have we learned about COVID-19 and the heart?

We’ve learned about COVID-19 and heart disease, but there is still a lot we don’t know. Some things that are very clear are patients who have pre-existing heart conditions who get COVID-19 are at higher risk to have severe disease and a higher risk for death. 

We have also found that patients who have evidence of heart damage from the COVID-19 infection have a higher risk of having a bad outcome. This does not happen in many patients but it does happen with some. The other thing that can happen is that the virus can cause direct damage to the heart leading to inflammation. And that condition is called myocarditis. If you have background cardiovascular disease, you’re twice as likely to develop severe illness if you get COVID-19.

Signs and symptoms to watch out for?

One of the tricky things about COVID-19 is that it is primarily a lung condition, but a lot of the symptoms related to the heart and the lung overlap. Certainly, residual shortness of breath or being fatigue are symptoms to look for. In some people, those things may take a while to get back, but if they linger on you need to see a doctor and find out what those symptoms are related to.

Who is more likely to experience these effects? Is age a factor?

Certainly, we know that age is a major risk factor for getting COVID, but it is not the only factor. We see older who get the virus that has no symptoms and younger people who become really sick. I think the same is true with the heart. This disease does not affect just older people or older people with preexisting conditions, anyone can get every sick. People of all ages can develop myocarditis. There’s just a lot we don’t understand from that standpoint.

Can these cardiac effects will be long-term, perhaps even lifelong?

We don’t know yet. In most cases, it’s going to be short-term. I think we eventually will know the long-term effects, it really depends on how the heart was affected. There is a wide range of things that could cause damage to the heart. Every day, we learn something different. Right now we do not have a long-term follow-up on these patients.

Treatment for heart conditions as a result of COVID-19?

There aren’t any specific treatment plans for the heart if someone is experiencing heart damage from getting COVID-19. Treatment is really determined from how the heart has been damaged, which there are standard treatments for that.

Some patients may develop myocarditis that can result in cardiac dysfunction and we would use standard treatments for that. We know that many viral infections including COVID-19 could put patients at risk for heart attacks, and we use standard treatments for that. So all in all there are no specific treatments for if the heart has damaged by COVID-19 we treat the heart according to what is going on.