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Critical COVID-19: Bad news for heart health

Heart data concept. Copyright: tribalium123 / 123RF Stock Photo
Image credit: tribalium123 / 123RF

Critical cases of COVID-19, warranting admission to the intensive care unit (ICU), could pose a danger to heart health. 

Patients admitted to the ICU with COVID-19 – the disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) or, simply, the coronavirus – are ten times more likely to develop heart health complications such as cardiac arrest and arrhythmias compared to other patients hospitalised due to COVID-19. This is according to a study conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, which was published in the Heart Rhythm Journal

The news comes on the heels of research which estimated that more than one in five people worldwide are at risk of developing a severe infection with coronavirus due to underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease. This translates to 1.7 billion people worldwide, amounting to 22 percent of the global population. 

142157361 - bengaluru / bangalore, india - march 4 2020: a hospital ward for testing covid-19 or coronavirus setup in bangalore, india. the infectious disease has over 93,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with india has reporting 28 confirmed coronavirus cases. COVID-19 case count concept. Image credit: Ajay Bhaskar / 123rf. Critical COVID-19 concept.
A facility in Bengaluru, Karnataka for testing of COVID-19. Image credit: Ajay Bhaskar / 123rf

Researchers assessed 700 patients admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, of whom eleven percent were admitted to the ICU. “Researchers say the results suggest that cardiac arrests and arrhythmias suffered by some patients with COVID-19 are likely triggered by a severe, systemic form of the disease and are…not the sole consequence of the viral infection,” a news release published by Penn Medicine News explains. “The findings—which differ significantly from early reports that showed a high incidence of arrhythmias among all COVID-19 patients—provide more clarity about the role of the novel coronavirus….in the development of arrhythmias, including irregular heart rate (atrial fibrillation), slow heart rhythms (bradyarrhythmia) or rapid heart rate that stops by itself within thirty seconds (non-sustained ventricular tachycardia).” 

Rajat Deo, MD, MTR, a cardiac electrophysiologist, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine, and the senior and corresponding author of the study, said “in order to best protect and treat patients who develop COVID-19, it’s critical for us to improve our understanding of how the disease affects various organs and pathways within our body—including our heart rhythm abnormalities. Our findings suggest that non-cardiac causes such as systemic infection, inflammation and illness are likely to contribute more to the occurrence of cardiac arrest and arrhythmias than damaged or infected heart cells due to the viral infection.”

Deo added that “more research is needed to assess whether the presence of cardiac arrhythmias have long-term health effects on patients who were hospitalised  for COVID-19. In the meantime, it’s important that we launch studies to evaluate the most effective and safest strategies for long-term anticoagulation and rhythm management in this population.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving public health crisis. With millions having been infected with the coronavirus globally, there is the need for deeper understanding of its lasting effects on patients, including in terms of heart health.

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