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March 7, 2021

U. of U. researchers studying long-term effects of COVID-19 on heart

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors at the University of Utah have been watching the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart.

They announced their initial findings at a news conference Tuesday.

Doctors there have put a plan in place to watch the heart health of hospitalized COVID-19 patients long-term. That includes having some of them back multiple times for follow-up tests.

Because they’ve only been dealing with the virus over the past six to seven months, the researchers said they really don’t have a lot of data on the virus’ long-term impact on the heart.

On top of the added stress on the organ in older patients, researchers at the U. said COVID-19 has an affinity to bind with a protein found within the heart and blood vessels.

Cardiologist Dr. Kevin Shah said the body’s response to fight off COVID-19 may actually lead to heart issues.

“The body often produces a strong immune response to fight the viral infection, and that strong immune response can potentially indirectly cause cardiovascular consequences,” he said.

He said even people who recover from the disease at home should watch out for potential future symptoms.

“These are things like, chest pain, light-headedness, heart fluttering sensations, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue,” Dr. Shah said. “These are things that should be checked out by a physician.”

Shah added even young or apparently healthy patients can have underlying conditions they’re not aware of but are revealed after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Initially, about 5% to 8% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients ended up with significant impacts to the heart. That number could change Shah said. “With the recent uptick, in the hospital now, there’s many more patients than there were just a few weeks ago with COVID-19, and the university has set up a very good system in terms of readily testing patients in the hospital with concerning symptoms, and there’s also a good outpatient testing scheme to follow these patients.”

The state of Utah has extensive information on testing and help for the economic impact of COVID-19 at coronavirus.utah.gov.

Mike Anderson

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