Can COVID-19 Cause Cardiomyopathy?

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There’s much we still need to learn about the impact of COVID-19 on your cardiovascular health, but one thing is certain: The virus can directly affect your heart. Medical experts currently estimate that 20-25% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 develop heart muscle inflammation, a condition called myocarditis. Heart problems aren’t limited to people who were sick enough to go to the hospital. In one study, 78% of patients who recovered from COVID-19 had signs of ongoing heart inflammation, and two-thirds of them recovered at home. In other words, you might not have symptoms or experience mild to moderate illness due to COVID-19, but you’re still at risk for myocarditis. And myocarditis can lead to cardiomyopathy. Our team at Peak Heart & Vascular keeps up with the most current research about COVID-19 and heart disease. If you had, or currently have, COVID-19 and have any questions or concerns about your heart health, don’t hesitate to call — we’re here to help. Meanwhile, here’s what we know so far about COVID-19 and how it can lead to cardiomyopathy.

How COVID-19 causes heart damage

COVID-19 can cause myocarditis and cardiomyopathy through:

Inflammation

COVID-19 causes a body-wide inflammatory response. Inflammation normally helps your body fight infection, but COVID-19 triggers such an immense reaction that the extensive inflammation can lead to heart problems. Inflammation induced by COVID-19 causes myocarditis, but it can also affect the tissues surrounding your heart, causing a type of inflammatory disease called pericarditis. Inflammation also has the ability to disrupt the heart’s electrical system and cause arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).

Direct heart injury

The COVID-19 virus can also directly attack your heart, a characteristic that sets it apart from other members of the coronavirus family. COVID-19 has a protein that attaches to and then enters heart cells. Once the virus is in cardiac cells, it damages them, causing scarring or cellular death.

Oxygen deprivation

As the virus infects your lungs, your body is deprived of oxygen. Acute respiratory distress is known to cause heart complications such as arrhythmias, reduced cardiac output, heart attack, and endocarditis. Endocarditis occurs when the inner lining of your heart becomes inflamed.

COVID-19 and cardiomyopathy

There are many possible causes of cardiomyopathy, including tissue damage and inflammation due to viral infections such as COVID-19. Even though COVID-19 is most often linked with myocarditis rather than cardiomyopathy, the fact is that myocarditis can cause cardiomyopathy. Up to 20% of patients who get myocarditis due to viral infections other than COVID-19 go on to develop chronic inflammatory cardiomyopathy. Though further research is needed to verify the overall impact of COVID-19, chances are it causes just as many, if not more, cases of cardiomyopathy as other viral infections.

Symptoms of myocarditis and cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy may cause an enlarged left ventricle, lead to thickened muscles in the left ventricle, or generally cause loss of elasticity, making the heart muscles rigid. All three types restrict the heart’s ability to pump oxygen-rich blood into your body. Since myocarditis causes inflamed heart muscles, this condition also reduces the heart’s pumping ability. And myocarditis often interrupts the heart’s built-in electrical system. Myocarditis and cardiomyopathy both cause symptoms such as:
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath (at rest and when you’re active)
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, and/or feet (due to fluid retention)
  • Fast or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
If you have cardiomyopathy, you may also experience dizziness, abdominal bloating, or a cough that occurs when lying down. If you develop any of these symptoms during or after your recovery from COVID-19, don’t wait to contact us for a complete heart evaluation. It doesn’t matter if you had asymptomatic, mild, or severe COVID-19, you’re at risk for ongoing heart problems. You may prevent serious complications with early treatment. You can consult with one of our experienced cardiologists through a virtual visit or in person at one of our clinic locations. To schedule an appointment, call Peak Heart & Vascular in Surprise, Avondale, Flagstaff, or Phoenix, Arizona, or connect online to submit an appointment request for an in-office or virtual visit.

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