A child with COVID-19 infection

The Hidden Cardiovascular Toll of COVID-19: A Comprehensive Guide

Steve Camilleri, once an agile firefighter and paramedic, finds himself gingerly stepping on a treadmill under medical supervision. Previously, he would carry heavy gear up ladders without breaking a sweat. Now, a mild bout of COVID-19 has left him grappling with dangerous spikes in blood pressure, an erratic heartbeat, and episodes of intense chest pain. Camilleri is among a growing number of people whose cardiac health has taken a hit due to the virus.

The Unseen Epidemic within the Pandemic

While most headlines have focused on the immediate and often fatal respiratory consequences of COVID-19, there is a lesser-known but equally worrying concern—its impact on heart health. According to Dr. Susan Cheng, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, effects on the heart and vascular system are alarmingly more frequent compared to other organs. Not only are long COVID patients like Camilleri at risk, but individuals who have recovered from the virus may also face heightened risks of heart-related issues, ranging from blood clots and irregular heartbeats to heart attacks, up to a year after their recovery.

Who Is At Risk and What Are the Signs?

The scope of who might be susceptible to cardiac issues post-COVID remains a medical mystery. Could these cardiovascular issues be reversible? Or, are they an early signal of long-term heart problems? Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly from Washington University, who has been studying the lingering effects of COVID-19, warns that the pandemic may leave the nation even sicker due to virus-related heart troubles. He fears that the consequences might reverberate for generations.

Setting Back a Decade of Progress

Heart disease has been a leading cause of death globally. Remarkably, heart-related death rates in the U.S. had reached record lows in 2019, showing significant medical progress. However, the pandemic reversed this achievement, wiping out nearly a decade of advancements. Disturbingly, young individuals, who are typically less prone to heart attacks, also showed an approximately 30% increase in heart attack deaths during the first two years of the pandemic.

The Growing Prevalence of High Blood Pressure

Adding fuel to the fire, Dr. Cheng notes that people’s blood pressure levels have significantly increased during the pandemic. Given that high blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease, this is a concerning trend.

Long COVID and Cardiovascular Symptoms

Cardiovascular issues are now recognized as a part of ‘long COVID,’ a term that encapsulates various persistent health issues, such as fatigue and brain fog, that linger beyond the initial infection period. The National Institutes of Health is commencing small-scale studies to explore potential treatments for specific long COVID symptoms, including cardiovascular issues.

Clues from Blood Flow Abnormalities

Dr. Amanda Verma, part of a cardiology team at Washington University, has been researching abnormal blood flow as a potential culprit in long COVID cases like Camilleri’s. She believes that the ‘fight-or-flight’ system in some long COVID patients remains activated even during rest, leading to elevated heart rates and blood pressure. Verma has been experimenting with medicines that dilate blood vessels and dampen the fight-or-flight response, yielding some positive results.

The Magnitude of the Issue

Dr. Al-Aly studied medical records from a massive Veterans Administration database and found that even middle-aged people without prior heart disease signs were more likely to experience abnormal heartbeats, blood clots, chest pain, and palpitations up to a year post-COVID recovery. Based on his findings, Al-Aly estimates that approximately 4% of people would require care for some heart-related symptoms within a year of recovery.

What Can You Do?

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of vigilance and preventive healthcare. While we can’t undo past COVID-19 infections, we can certainly take control of other risk factors like high cholesterol levels, uncontrolled blood pressure, and lifestyle choices like smoking.

Final Thoughts

While more research is needed to understand the extent of COVID-19’s impact on heart health, the need for awareness and prevention cannot be overstated. Medical professionals agree that tackling other heart risks has become even more critical than before the pandemic. Whether COVID-19 will become the new rheumatic heart disease is still uncertain, but what is clear is that the cardiac repercussions of this virus require our utmost attention.

It’s imperative for everyone to play their part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and safeguarding our communities. If you’re experiencing symptoms or have had close contact with someone who might be infected, it’s crucial to get tested immediately. BeingBio’s CorDx Covid-19 Ag test offers a reliable and quick method to determine if you have the virus. Not only will this provide clarity about your health, but it will also protect your loved ones and others around you. Early detection is key to effective isolation and treatment, and using BeingBio’s CorDx test is a responsible step toward ensuring a safer environment for all. Don’t hesitate; your health and the health of your community rely on timely action.

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