COVID Shock Study: Survivors At Risk for Heart Failure, Blood Clots

”Governments and health systems must wake up to the reality that Covid will cast a tall shadow in the form of long Covid,” Ziyad Al-Aly says

People who were infected with COVID—including those who weren’t hospitalized—are at risk of developing heart failure and deadly blood clots a year after recovering from the virus, a new study finds.

In the study, which is under consideration for publication by Nature journal, researchers found that the chances of a COVID survivor having a heart attack, stroke, or other major cardiovascular event in the first 12 months after recovery from COVID increases with the severity of the initial illness, Bloomberg reports. Heart disease and stroke are already the leading causes of death worldwide, and with more than 200 million COVID cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic, that devastation could grow.

“The aftereffects of Covid-19 are substantial,” Ziyad Al-Aly, the lead researcher on the study, told Bloomberg. Ziyad Al-Aly is also the director of the clinical epidemiology center at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System in Missouri.

He continues, “Governments and health systems must wake up to the reality that Covid will cast a tall shadow in the form of long Covid, and has devastating consequences. I am concerned that we are not taking this seriously enough.”

Researchers pulled data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ national healthcare database to compare the risks of heart complications in 151,195 veterans who survived COVID to more than 3.6 million people who didn’t contract the deadly virus. A majority of the people included in the study were white and male, which may limit how generalizable the study’s findings are to other groups, the authors wrote.

They found that COVID survivors who weren’t hospitalized had a 39 percent increased risk of developing heart failure and a 2.2 higher chance of getting a potentially deadly blood clot, known as pulmonary embolism, in the following year compared to someone who didn’t develop the disease, Bloomberg reports. This equals an additional 5.8 cases of heart failure and 2.8 cases of pulmonary embolism for every 1,000 COVID patients who didn’t end up in the hospital.

When it comes to COVID patients who were hospitalized, researchers found that they had a 5.8 increased chance of cardiac arrest and a roughly 14-fold increased risk of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, Bloomberg reports. Those who needed intensive care for COVID were at an even higher risk, with roughly one in seven suffering a major cardiac event that they wouldn’t have otherwise had within a year.

Researchers said they are still trying to determine the causes of heart damage in COVID survivors, but noted that possible mechanisms include lingering damage from direct viral invasion of heart-muscle cells and the cells that line blood vessels, blood clots and aberrant and persistent inflammation, Bloomberg reports.

Research from prior natural disasters and previous pandemics suggests that possible causes could stem from changes in dietary habits and physical activity, financial distress, lived experiences of trauma or grief, and changes in one’s social environment including social isolation and quarantine.

But just as the pandemic continues to evolve with the introduction of new variants, as treatment strategies evolve, and more people get vaccinated, “it is possible that the epidemiology of cardiovascular manifestations in COVID-19 may also change over time,” the authors wrote.

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