Evidence suggests COVID-19 has longer-term effect on survivors’ hearts

Doctors learning about COVID-19’s effects on the body are seeing signs of lasting damage in the heart that does not appear to be impacting overall wellness.

A study published in JAMA Cardiology found inflammation on the hearts of coronavirus survivors detectable many weeks after apparent full recoveries.

“After a COVID infection…MRIs of the heart found small areas that lit up,” said Dr. Ameya Kulkarni, an interventional cardiologist with Kaiser Permanente in Virginia. “Swelling on the heart muscle later — maybe 10, 12 weeks or even beyond.”

Though he wasn’t involved with the research, Kulkarni is familiar with the findings.

“Thankfully, at least for the moment, the suggestion is that clinically, it doesn’t mean much,” he said. “There are no clinical consequences. So, patients are not having symptoms.”

Still, Kulkarni believes doctors and former patients should be on the lookout for potential symptoms that might include swelling in the legs, shortness of breath doing previously-easy activities, using more pillows to sleep at night or waking in the night with shortness of breath.

“What it means for us is vigilant caution,” he said.

Former coronavirus patients experiencing anything out of the ordinary should consult their doctors.

“My mantra for my patients is that you never worry alone,” he said.

Big picture, Kulkarni notes that one of the challenges of watching a pandemic unfold in real time is that data revealed in fits and spurts may seem correct initially but need to be put into context.

“This study, like every other study that’s come out about COVID in the past six months — we should view in that lens,” Kulkarni said.

“While we should have vigilant caution about symptoms that don’t make sense, we should also think about it as a potential way forward or a blind alley. I think both are important to think about.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | District of Columbia

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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