Long COVID isn’t the only opportunity for the virus to wreak havoc later than expected.
Even a mild case of COVID can lead to an increased risk of heart problems like heart failure and stroke for at least a year, according to a study conducted in March by researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Deaths from heart attacks have soared during pandemic outbreaks, particularly among 25- to 44-year-olds, a generally low-risk population, Cedars-Sinai researchers announced last fall. And emerging data continues to support these findings and others like them.
In an effort to determine why and how COVID can affect the heart, Dr. Andrew Marks, a cardiologist and professor of biophysics at Columbia University, and Steven Reiken, a research scientist in his lab, studied heart tissue from deceased people. of COVID, in addition to the hearts of mice that had been infected with COVID.
Among their findings, which they will present Monday at the Biophysical Society’s 67th Annual Meeting in San Diego:
Human heart tissues show increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as changes in calcium levels due to damage to the system that regulates them in the heart. Such alterations can lead to arrhythmia or heart failure, the researchers said.
Chest pain and tachycardia, or an unusually rapid heartbeat, are common long-term among COVID survivors.
Mouse heart tissue shows an increased percentage of fibrosis and fiber dilation, a common signal of early cardiomyopathy, which makes it harder for the heart to pump blood and can lead to heart failure.
Heart cell death and blood clots in the hearts of mice infected with COVID-19 have also been observed.
“Physicians should be aware of cardiac changes related to COVID-19 infections and should look for them,” says Marks. He hopes his research will lead to increased awareness among medical providers of the potentially stealthy cardiac fallout from the virus and, eventually, treatments for those whose hearts have been damaged by the pathogen.
How to Maintain Heart Health in the Age of COVID
With COVID here to stay, what can the average person do to protect their heart?
Keeping the heart healthy before COVID seems largely the same during COVID, says Dr. Michelle Albert, president of the American Heart Association Fortune.
“Maintaining optimal cardiovascular health is important at every stage of your life and can help you enjoy a longer, healthier life,” she says. “Better cardiovascular health has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia and other major health problems.”
Maintaining good heart health can reduce your risk of COVID, she adds, because conditions that increase the risk of serious COVID outcomes, such as obesity and high blood pressure, often overlap with poor heart health.
Albert and the AHA recommend the following:
Control blood pressure
Maintain a healthy weight
No smoking or vaping
Get enough sleep
Maintain healthy cholesterol and lipid levels
Maintain healthy blood sugar
The AHA also recommends people stay up to date with their COVID shots and boosters, and call 911 if they, or anyone else, have signs of a heart attack or stroke.
Additionally, Marks recommends continuing to mask up in public. “There are still a lot of things we don’t understand,” he says. “The public should be aware of the risks.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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