In two new studies published in the Journal of American Medical Association (Cardiology), it has been shown that coronavirus can cause serious damage to heart tissue. Both studies were conducted in Germany.
The first study was conducted on 39 expired people who lost their battle against coronavirus, of which 35 had pneumonia. Scientists at the University Heart and Vascular Centre in Hamburg, the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, and the Institute for Cardiac Diagnostics and Therapy in Berlin, Germany were involved in the study.
A high proportion (61.5 percent) of the autopsies showed that the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) also infected heart muscle. Out of these 24 autopsies, 16 people had more than 1000 copies per microgram of coronavirus RNA, suggesting that there were quite significant amounts of the virus.
The virus replication was actually so much that even when the heart stopped working, the virus replication continued. This was seen in 5 of the autopsies out of the total.
The second study conducted in the University Hospital Frankfurt in Frankfurt am Main, and the Institute for Cardiac Diagnostic and Therapy in Berlin, Germany on the other hand followed 100 patients that had previously tested positive for COVID-19.
The study was conducted after an average of two months (71 days) had passed after the initial diagnosis. Scientists took a look at the patients’ hearts to see if there was any heart damage using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Many of those who were under study were relatively young with an average age of 49 years. Not all of them developed sever symptoms and 2/3 of the patients were also never hospitalized.
Still, the MRI showed that 78% of the subjects had some type of abnormality in their hearts. These abnormalities included inflammation, enlarged left ventricles, and decreased ability of the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body due to myocarditis or pericarditis.
New findings provide intriguing evidence that #COVID19 is associated with at least some component of myocardial injury, perhaps as the result of direct viral infection of the heart https://t.co/WzqmB5FtTR
— JAMA Cardiology (@JAMACardio) July 27, 2020
Myocarditis is a condition in which heart muscle become inflamed. This inflammation can lead to tissue damage, which eventually reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood to the body.
A severe myocarditis can even lead to heart failure, heart attack and even stroke because the pooled unpumped blood in the heart can form clots that trigger many of these conditions. Myocarditis can also lead to sudden cardiac death due to arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm) because damaged muscles cannot conduct electricity properly.
On the other hand, pericarditis is the inflammation of the pericardium; the membranous sac that encases your heart. This condition can also lead to serious issues like abnormal heartbeat and function.
These findings are in line with what scientists already know about viral infections. Other viruses like the adenovirus, hepatitis B and C viruses, parvovirus, Epstein Barr virus, and herpes simplex virus can also cause serious heart damage in the form of myocarditis or pericarditis.
The second study showed that 12 of the patients’ hearts were not getting enough oxygen. There were also three curious cases that showed that there were severe heart abnormalities due to inflammation but no signs of the virus.
Scientists also discovered detectable levels of troponin in these peoples’ blood in majority (76 percent) of the cases. This is also significant as troponin should not be detectable in blood of healthy people. This means that there is something wrong with heart muscles that contain this chemical.
A possible explanation for this is that due to the heart damage, the troponin is leaking in their bloodstream. It was also seen that even after 2 months of infection, 17 patients were still suffering from chest pain, 20 from heart palpitations, and 36 from ongoing shortness of breath and general exhaustion.
Previously, it has been shown that the coronavirus causes damage to kidneys, heart, lungs, circulatory system, and even the brain.
Now these studies along with other evidences discovered since the start of this pandemic raises more questions like is this heart damage permanent, is a specific group more prone to this kind of heart damage, can this heart damage cause death, etc. The teams of researchers working on the two studies have called for more research into the subject to find answers to these questions.