Satjit Bhusri, MD, is concerned about his and her heart health. As a longtime cardiologist in New York City, he’s now addressing the aftermath of Covid-19. “What is unusual about COVID… is that it is extremely flammable. That is, the body attacks [the virus], and [the immune system] somehow goes overboard, ”he said.
What is worrying is that cardiovascular damage often occurs after the virus is rejected.
If the Covid-19 heart connection comes as a surprise, this was news for doctors too, as Covid is considered a respiratory disease. But Covid patients showed vascular problems.
“The patients showed blood clots in their legs,” he said, and the detective work began. “What’s wrong with the vascular system?”
It is the effects of the virus that hit the heart. “It interacts and disrupts the inner lining of your blood vessels,” said Dr. Bhusri. This can lead to serious side effects. The inflammation in the blood vessels can lead to blood clots, which in turn can lead to heart attacks and strokes. “It also looks like it goes straight into the heart muscle and causes heart failure, arrhythmias, or dangerous heart rhythms.”
Dangerous heart rhythms sound pretty scary. So should people be worried? In this Covid-19 world where the CDC estimates that 83.1 million people have had Covid, many of these people with no symptoms, should we all be worried about our hearts, both those who have had Covid and those who? have not done this?
Doctors are still investigating the full extent of Covid-19. “This is not just a simple virus, but an animal that I firmly believe has its own subspecialties,” said Dr. Bhusri that scientists and doctors are still studying viruses like Ebola, HIV, and even the Spanish flu. He believes research on Covid-19 will stay here as doctors and researchers try to understand this new viral player. “The organs we see are affected and we are just beginning to understand the long-term implications,” he said
Others share his opinion.
David Baran, MD, director of advanced heart failure and transplantation for Sentara Health System in Virginia, spoke at a cardiovascular conference in 2020. “We literally learn over time,” he said. “One of the problems is that COVID is a shapeshifter. Only when you think you understand what you are dealing with does something change. “His remarks were reported in Diagnostic and Interventional Cardiology.
But back to the real question: should you be concerned about heart health? The short answer is maybe. Steven Erickson, MD, medical director of Banner University Sports Medicine in Phoenix, AZ, warned that people who have had Covid should not return to old activities. “You won’t get sick with COVID-19 and you stay home from school for a week and the next day you go back and play two hours of soccer,” he said in comments to the Republic of Arizona.
Doctors now routinely check heart health when Covid-19 is suspected, according to a report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. There is no magical way to know who might have heart complications from Covid-19. Some people recover without any adverse effects, while others do not. In August 2020, The Lancet discussed a case study of an 11-year-old who developed heart failure. According to the American Heart Association, about a quarter of people in hospital have cardiovascular disease and are thought to contribute to 40% of Covid-19-related deaths.
Check out the house
In the clinic, Dr. Bhsuri seen patients with asymptomatic covid with no symptoms related to the original virus who later developed heart disease. For these patients, the best thing to do is preventive testing. Dr. Bhsuri likes to think of the heart as a house with structure (the heart muscle), electricity, and plumbing. All of these parts can contribute to different conditions such as an irregular, too slow or too fast heart rate or heart disease. Dr. Bhsuri described a few cases where he found Covid-19 patients with emerging heart failure, heart disease, or arrhythmias. “For the sake of thoroughness, patients who have been COVID positive, regardless of where they were on the spectrum of the disease, should definitely be screened for cardiovascular disease,” suggested Dr. Bhsuri before.
Dr. Bhusri has a personal relationship with his work. In 2015 he suffered heart shock and was hospitalized in an intensive care unit. During the pandemic, he headed a Covid-19 unit that was quarantined by his family. For him it was one of the hardest things in his life, just after his heart disease. People like Dr. Bhusri are at high risk due to the effects Covid-19 can have on the heart and cardiovascular system.
An ounce of prevention …
With people who do not have any pre-existing risks, Dr. Bhusri’s advice on lifestyle to protect good heart health. He emphasized good nutrition, preferably the Mediterranean diet, and exercise. “Wherever you are … you have to keep moving.”
Avoiding heart problems and regularly monitoring the health of your heart are the best ways to keep it healthy. And during this pandemic, following established habits – always staying masked in public, avoiding close contact, etc. – can only help that end.
Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She began as an intern on a health and science podcast on Philadelphia public radio. Before that, she worked as a researcher studying the way bones are formed. When she is not in the laboratory and at her computer, she is in the moonlight as an assistant to a pig veterinarian and bagel baker.
Medically reviewed by Yvonne Stolworthy, MSN, RN