Ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could include increases in heart disease, heart failure and strokes in the year after patients believe they have recovered from the virus, according to a new study.
The study in the journal Nature Medicine found that overall, people who contracted COVID-19 were 55 percent more likely than the study’s control group to suffer what researchers called a major cardiovascular event.
“What we’re seeing isn’t good,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University and an author of the study, according to Science Daily.
“COVID-19 can lead to serious cardiovascular complications and death. The heart does not regenerate or easily mend after heart damage. These are diseases that will affect people for a lifetime,” he said.
The study said that in comparison to a control group of people without infections, those who had COVID-19 were 72 percent more likely to experience coronary artery disease, 63 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack and 52 percent more likely to be impacted by a stroke.
Given the numbers of people infected, the study said, its results mean those infections “might translate into a large number of potentially affected people around the world. Governments and health systems around the world should be prepared to deal with the likely significant contribution of the COVID-19 pandemic to a rise in the burden of cardiovascular diseases.”
“Because of the chronic nature of these conditions, they will likely have long-lasting consequences for patients and health systems and also have broad implications on economic productivity and life expectancy,” the study said.
Individuals with #COVID19 are at increased long-term risk for a wide range of #cardiovascular disorders, even those who were not hospitalized during the acute phase of the infection https://t.co/jGVCSnFbbi
— Nature Medicine (@NatureMedicine) February 7, 2022
With an estimated 380 million coronavirus infections, “COVID-19 infections have, thus far, contributed to 15 million new cases of heart disease worldwide,” Al-Aly said.
“This is quite significant. For anyone who has had an infection, it is essential that heart health be an integral part of post-acute COVID care,” he said.
Al-Aly said it is not only those with a history of cardiovascular disease who need to worry.
“[P]eople who have never had any heart problems and were considered low risk are also developing heart problems after COVID-19,” he said.
“But most remarkably, people who have never had any heart problems and were considered low risk are also developing heart problems after COVID,” he said, according to the Daily Mail.
“Our data showed an increased risk of heart damage for young people and old people; males and females; blacks, whites, and all races; people with obesity and people without; people with diabetes and those without; people with prior heart disease and no prior heart disease; people with mild COVID infections and those with more severe COVID who needed to be hospitalized for it,” Al-Aly said.
The study was based on data from the Department of Veterans Affairs database from March 1, 2020, through Jan. 15, 2021, before the vaccines were in wide use. It also means the COVID-19 cases studied did not include patients with the delta and omicron variants.
The study’s implications translate to “roughly 3 million people in the U.S. who have suffered cardiovascular complications due to COVID-19,” Al-Aly said, according to Science Daily.
“Our findings highlight the serious long-term cardiovascular consequences of having a COVID-19 infection and emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as a way to prevent heart damage; this also underscores the importance of increasing accessibility to the vaccines in countries with limited resources,” he said.