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During American Heart Month, NIH researchers are available to discuss COVID-19 and heart disease


WHAT: This February, during American Heart Month, experts from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) are available to discuss the latest science on COVID-19 and heart disease, as well as treatment, risk factors, and lifestyle changes to support cardiovascular health. They will also highlight the importance of preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

WHO: David Goff, M.D., Director, Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, NHLBI; George Mensah, M.D., Director, Center for Translation Research & Implementation Science, NHLBI

COVID-19 and the heart: One in four hospitalized patients with COVID-19 has experienced cardiac-related complications, which can result in inflammation that sustains infection, an irregular heartbeat, the need for assisted breathing support, and even death. Once SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen that causes COVID-19, infects heart cells, a range of cardiac responses may follow: reduced cardiac output, scarring, and an enlarged heart.

Active research: Scientists are studying why some people have severe reactions to SARS-CoV-2. Research is also underway to help doctors understand the impact COVID-19 has on patients with mild and severe infections. Some patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms have lingering side effects. Others could remain asymptomatic – and not know they had the virus – but develop heart damage. College and professional athletes are sharing data from cardiac imaging exams to help researchers evaluate the impact COVID-19 has had on the heart. Larger, prospective studies are necessary to answer other questions. One five-year study, supported by NHLBI, has enrolled 30 pediatric medical centers to follow the health and cardiac outcomes of children diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Like varying responses adults have had to SARS-CoV-2, MIS-C, an inflammatory response to COVID-19 that develops 4-6 weeks after infection, affects children differently.  

Hospital trends: Researchers have found that, in some states, adult deaths associated with ischemic stroke and hypertension increased during the pandemic. Conversely, hospitalizations for heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke decreased. An increase in deaths connected to heart disease that affects arteries and blood vessels may be because patients in areas with higher rates of COVID-19 are delaying medical appointments for fear of infection. Research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Thoracic Surgeons showed a 53% reduction in heart surgeries nationwide. Overburdened hospitals could account for other factors.

Emergencies at home: Rates for successfully resuscitating people who experienced cardiac arrest outside of a hospital also fell during the pandemic. These trends were most prevalent in areas with higher COVID-19 case rates. Fear of seeking care, a loss of bystanders performing resuscitation, and increased safety protocols for emergency medical workers, which could delay ambulatory care, may explain these differences. Although, more research is needed.

Prioritizing heart health: A healthy heart and vascular system can help mitigate severe cases of COVID-19. Maintaining medical appointments and seeking care for emerging health issues during the pandemic supports cardiovascular health outcomes. Other heart-healthy routines include building meals around colorful foods, moving at a pace that gets the heart pumping for 30-40 minutes each day, and sleeping for at least seven hours each night.

#OurHearts: For additional information about heart-healthy living and American Heart Month, visit: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/education-and-awareness/heart-month.

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