Coronavirus just got even scarier, if that’s possible. According to a new study published this week in JAMA Cardiology by experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston COVID-19 can not only present itself in a more deadly form for people with existing heart conditions, but it can also cause cardiac injury for people without pre-existing heart conditions.
“It is likely that even in the absence of previous heart disease, the heart muscle can be affected by coronavirus disease,” said Mohammad Madjid, MD, MS, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of cardiology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Overall, injury to heart muscle can happen in any patient with or without heart disease, but the risk is higher in those who already have heart disease.”
The study, which was conducted from January to February, looked at a group of 416 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Wuhan, China and found that 19.7% suffered a cardiac injury, which put them at higher risk for a fatal version of Coronavirus.
Cardiac injury (also known as myocardial injury) happens when the heart muscle is damaged which is usually a result of reduced blood flow and that is when a heart attack occurs.
The researchers found that that 82 of the patients (19.7%) had cardiac injury and 334 patients (80.3%) did not. They then found that the death rate was higher among patients with cardiac injury with 51.2% dying (or 42 patients) versus 4.5%. Dr. Erin Michos, the associate director of preventive cardiology at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, told CNN, “We know that cardiac damage is a marker for more mortality,” Michos said. “This study clearly showed that even after you account for age and pre-existing cardiovascular disease, there was a still four-fold increased risk of dying. That’s really important.”
“Approximately 30% and 60% of patients with cardiac injury in the present study had a history of coronary heart disease and hypertension, respectively, which were significantly more prevalent than in those without cardiac injury,” the researchers wrote in the study.
In other words, COVID-19 can either cause heart problems or worsen the ones people already have. However, the researchers emphasized that “the severity, extent, and short-term vs long-term cardiovascular effects of COVID-19, along with the effect of specific treatments are not yet known, and are subject to close scrutiny and investigation.” They also said they need to look at a larger and more diverse group for conclusive results.
Also, those with mild COVID-19 symptoms are less likely to experience a cardiac injury. It is also not clear whether COVID-19 directly impacts the heart.