COVID-19 is an inflammatory disease. It causes inflammation in the body in most of the blood vessels. We also know that blood becomes thicker and often clot formation occurs in the lungs and heart arteries. In order to completely recover from COVID-19, it’s important to focus on post-COVID care as well.
Nagpur-based Consultant Cardiologist and Electrophysicist Dr Chetan Rathi says that COVID-19 infection triggers inflammation in the body that may lead to weakening of the heart muscle, abnormalities in heart rhythm, and even clot formation in blood vessels.
Dr Rathi says that there is a sharp rise in incidences of heart-related issues in recovered COVID patients aged 30-50 years resulting in long-term cardiac problems including breathing difficulty, chest pain, sudden onset palpitation,(arrhythmias, abnormalities of heartbeat), heart attacks, and heart failure (low pumping capacity).
Dr Chetan Rathi
Dr Rathi answers the frequently asked questions related to heart and COVID-19.
Is there a correlation between COVID-19 and heart ailments?
Dr Rathi: Yes, there is a correlation between COVID-19 and heart ailments but this has to be looked under two categories. The first set of people are those with pre-existing heart disease, such as those who have had a heart attack, bypass surgery, valve operations, and are prone to more severe illness when they contract the COVID-19 virus. The second set or people are those who contract the COVID-19 virus and develop the viral involvement of the heart muscles, which can lead to myocarditis or heart failure. Such patients are also susceptible to developing acute blood clots in their coronary artery, which results in heart attacks. This is also something that can happen in younger patients.
Once a patient recovers from COVID-19, what are the signs he/she should watch out for with respect to the heart?
Dr Rathi: In recovering COVID-19 patients, if there are no pre-existing heart ailments, we usually are concerned with two aspects – the occurrence of myocarditis and the formation of blood clots even after four to six weeks of the COVID-19 infection subsiding. So, even after four to six weeks of recovery one can have an acute attack. One of the signs that one can look out for include a heaviness in the chest. Patients suffering from myocarditis might experience rapid heartbeat and breathlessness. In such cases one is advised to get a check-up done immediately by a cardiologist.
For someone who has recovered from COVID-19, is there a risk of having a heart attack - even with no pre-existing heart condition?
Dr Rathi: If any patient recovering from COVID-19 gets any new symptom again like shortness of breath, which is out of proportion along with some peculiar sensation like a very fast or slow heart rate, unconsciousness, dizziness, one should always consider that it could be a heart attack. Especially in those patients who have underlying diabetes, high blood pressure and these people are much more vulnerable so they have to be much more careful.
Are heart patients at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19?
Dr Rathi: No, the risk of contracting COVID-19 arises due to exposure from aerosols. If you have a pre-existing heart ailment then the chances of COVID-19 impacting you severely is higher. Underlying co-morbidities only increase the risk of severity of COVID-19 and does not put one at any risk of contracting the virus.
What timely intervention must be carried out if a heart patient contracts COVID-19?
Dr Rathi: Heart patients who have contracted COVID-19 need to be monitored even more closely. Timely blood work, to ascertain the CRP and Ddimer readings must be done to help understand the severity of the infection. This will provide an indication of the complications that might arise in such patients. If any doubt, they should consult a cardiologist immediately.
Is it normal for one to have heart palpitations and pulse rate reaching 130 post COVID-19?
Dr Rathi: Post COVID-19, there are several reasons why the pulse rate in a patient can be high; more pertaining to autonomic dysfunction. The patient continuing to have a fever, low oxygen saturation level, anxiety and myocarditis can lead to one having a high pulse rate too.
Are vaccines safe for patients with heart conditions?
Dr Rathi: Yes, they are absolutely safe for anyone with a heart ailment. Both the vaccines currently available in India are safe.