The severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 (Sars-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 mainly targets the respiratory systems, therefor causing respiratory problems that require ventilators. Still, medical front line workers are grappling with the new medical mystery because of the virus.
Experts found out that COVID-19 does not only cause lung damage, but infected patients are also developing heart problems and are dying of cardiac arrest.
More and more cardiac experts believe that the COVID-19 virus can infect the heart as more data comes from China, Italy, Washington State, and New York. According to an initial study, cardiac damage was found in as many as 1 in 5 COVID-19 patients develop heart damage and dies from cardiac arrest, even among those who show no signs of respiratory distress.
That changes the way medical front line workers think about patients, especially during the early stages of the illness. With a need for new precautions in people with preexisting heart problems, this opens up a second front in combatting COVID-19, and demands for equipment, and ultimately new treatment plans for damaged hearts among those who successfully survived.
Virus or Illness
It is still a mystery for doctors and other medical experts as they race to understand if the emerging heart problems are caused by the coronavirus or are the byproduct of the body's reaction to it. Since COVID-19 alone can influence heart health, it is difficult to determine how the virus affects the heart.
Dr. Robert Bonow, a cardiology professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and editor of JAMA Cardiology, said, "Someone who's dying from a bad pneumonia will ultimately die because the heart stops." When this happens, your body does not get enough oxygen and things go haywire from there.
But Bonow, along with other cardiac experts, believe that COVID-19 infection could lead to damage to the heart as any medical event can create enough stress that can damage the heart. More so, pneumonia can also cause widespread inflammation in the body, which leads to plaque formation in arteries-causing heart attacks.
But the damage to the heart by COVID-19 is not discounted as a probable cause of heart muscle infection. Specific receptors attached in the lungs are the same as those that are found in the heart muscle as well, according to initial research.
Initial data from China
Doctors from China published two studies in March about how prevalent cardiac arrests are from COVID-19 patients. About 19% showed signs of heart damage and are more significantly more likely to die.
Those patients with heart disease history were much more likely to show heart damage after contracting the disease. But some patients showed signs of cardiac damage even without a history of heart problems, and studies show, they are most likely to die than patients with previous heart disease but without COVID-19 induced cardiac damage.
It is still unclear why some patients experience more cardiac problems than others. Bonow said that this could be caused by genetic predisposition, or it could also be due to exposure to higher loads of the virus.
Gathering data regarding this new concern could be difficult, especially when doctors cannot take biopsies of the heart to determine whether the heart muscle is infected with COVID-19 because patients are often too sick. It is difficult for patients to undergo invasive procedures.
But despite that problem and the surge of infected patients, doctors still continue to gather data and compile trends to publish their findings in near real-time. Knowing how the virus affects the heart should help doctors determine the type of therapies to use to keep the patients alive.
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