Covid-19 and the heart; two new studies suggest connection

Posted at 12:42 PM, Jul 29, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, doctors are learning more about the damage having Covid-19 can do to the body. Two separate studies published recently indicate the coronavirus can harm other organs in the body, including the heart.

One of the studies looked at 100 patients in Germany who recently recovered from Covid-19 and found 60 percent of participants had inflammation in the heart. The study used MRI scans to monitor the inflammation, and was published in JAMA Cardiology.

The majority of the patients in this study, 67 of them, recovered from the coronavirus at home with severity ranging from asymptomatic to moderate. It compared the MRIs of coronavirus survivors to scans from healthy volunteers.

The data showed there was some sort of heart involvement in those who had coronavirus, whether or not they had preexisting conditions or any heart-related symptoms during recovery.

“Our findings reveal that significant cardiac involvement occurs independently of the severity of original presentation and persists beyond the period of acute presentation, with no significant trend toward reduction of imaging or serological findings during the recovery period. Our findings may provide an indication of potentially considerable burden of inflammatory disease in large and growing parts of the population and urgently require confirmation in a larger cohort,” the researchers noted in conclusion.

A second study, also published in JAMA Cardiology, found coronavirus could be found in the heart tissue of patients who died.

The study looked at data from 39 autopsy cases in Germany in early April. The patients were aged 78 to 89, had tested positive for Covid-19 and there were results of heart tissue analysis in their autopsies.

In 16 of the 39 cases, there was a large “virus load” of coronavirus found in the heart tissue, another eight had a coronavirus presence in the tissue.

The sample of autopsy cases was small and the "elderly age of the patients might have influenced the results," the researchers wrote. More research is needed whether similar findings would emerge among a younger group of patients.

"Taken together the studies support that SARS-CoV-2 does not have to cause clinical myocarditis in order to find the virus in large numbers and the inflammatory response in myocardial tissue. In other words, one can have no or mild symptoms of heart involvement in order to actually cause damage," said Dr. Dave Montgomery, who was not involved in the studies, in a statement to CNN.

Dr. Clyde Yancy of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Dr. Gregg Fonarow of the University of California, Los Angeles, co-authored an editorial that accompanied the two new studies in the journal JAMA Cardiology called ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the Heart—Is Heart Failure the Next Chapter?”

“We see the plot thickening and we are inclined to raise a new and very evident concern that cardiomyopathy and heart failure related to COVID-19 may potentially evolve as the natural history of this infection becomes clearer,” they write.