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July 30, 2020 -- A large number of patients who recover from the coronavirus may have heart damage weeks or months after they feel better, according to two new studies in JAMA Cardiology.

Released Monday, the studies reinforce the idea that COVID-19 attacks more than the lungs — it can damage other organs, too, even in people who were healthy before they contracted the virus.

In one study, researchers [SM1] from Germany analyzed MRI scans in 100 people between ages 45 to 53 who recovered from the coronavirus. Compared to scans of similar patients who didn’t have the virus, 78 had lingering heart damage and structural changes to their hearts. In addition, 76 of those patients had a biomarker usually found in heart attack patients, and 60 had heart inflammation.

Of the 100 patients recently recovered from COVID-19, 67 (67%) recovered at home, while 33 (33%) required hospitalization.

None of the patients had heart problems before the virus or experienced heart symptoms while they had COVID-19. They were “mostly healthy” before they got sick, the researchers said.

“The patients and ourselves were both surprised by the intensity and prevalence of these findings, and that they were still very pronounced even though the original illness had been by then already a few weeks away,” Valentina Puntmann, MD, a cardiologist at the University Hospital Frankfurt and a co-author of the study, told UPI.

“We found evidence of ongoing inflammation within the heart muscle, as well as of the heart’s lining in a considerable majority of patients,” she said.

In the other study, another team of researchers from Germany analyzed autopsy reports for 39 people between ages 78 to 89 who died from COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. They found that the virus infected the heart in 16 -- or 41% -- of the patients.

“We see signs of viral replication in those that are heavily infected,” Dirk Westermann, MD, a cardiologist at the University Heart and Vascular Centre in Hamburg and a co-author of the study, told STAT.

“We don’t know the long-term consequences of the changes in gene expression yet,” he said. “I know from other diseases that it’s obviously not good to have that increased level of inflammation.”

Doctors have documented heart damage among COVID-19 patients worldwide. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez announced on Sunday that he wouldn’t start the season because he’s dealing with heart inflammation after contracting the coronavirus. He’s waiting for additional MRI results to determine whether he can play, according to WEEI.

“Back when I got COVID, I felt it all. I felt all the symptoms and everything,” he told the radio station. “Right now, I don’t feel all the symptoms. I got surprised when I got that from my heart because I don’t feel any symptoms from that. I didn’t feel anything from my chest.

Of the 100 patients recently recovered from COVID-19, 67 (67%) recovered at home, while 33 (33%) required hospitalization.

Show Sources

JAMA Cardiology, “Outcomes of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Patients Recently Recovered From Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

UPI, “Three-quarters of adults with COVID-19 have heart damage after recovery.”

JAMA Cardiology, “Association of Cardiac Infection With SARS-CoV-2 in Confirmed COVID-19 Autopsy Cases.”

STAT, “Covid-19 infections leave an impact on the heart, raising concerns about lasting damage.”

WEEI, “Eduardo Rodriguez confirms heart condition: ‘I’m still scared but now I know exactly what it is.’”

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