Epidemiologists have seen a strange connection between heart problems with Covid-19. It has been observed that people having a Cardiovascular disease are twice as affected with Covid-19 as compared to people without any heart issue. Even though the death rates have decreased from COVID-19, CVD still remains the main reason behind some of the deaths.
Pre-existing Heart Problems with COVID-19: Risk & Severity
Diseases such as asthma and diabetes increase severity and risk for COVID-19. Diabetes weakens the immune system whereas asthma weakens the lungs. How CVD increases the risk of severe COVID-19 is shared below:
There are two main explanations behind the severity of COVID-19 due to heart problems. According to the first explanation, pre-existing heart issues such as damaged heart muscle or blocked heart arteries reduce the body’s immunity and ability to survive the stress. Patients with weak hearts are not able to withstand the effects of fever, unstable blood pressures, low oxygen, and blood clotting disorders which can arise due to COVID-19.
The second explanation is related to weak metabolic health which happens in patients due to heart disease. Poor metabolic health is due to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity. These also cause issues such as blood clots and inflammation thus increasing the risk of causing severe COVID-19 effects.
Heart Problems with COVID-19 & Its Connection
COVID-19 virus affects the heart in different ways. It can directly invade or cause inflammation in the heart muscle. It also harms the heart by disrupting the balance between oxygen supply and demand. Heart injury is measured by increased levels of enzyme troponin in the bloodstream. This was detected in one-quarter of patients hospitalized with increased COVID-19 illness. These patients had pre-existing CVD.
Inflamed Heart Muscle
Most people suffer from mild forms of COVID-19. They recover fully. But 20% develop pneumonia whereas 5% are at risk of developing a severe form of it. In severe cases, the body’s immune system overreacts to the infection and releases molecules such as cytokines in the bloodstream. These molecules “cytokine-storm” cause damage to multiple organs including the vitals such as the heart.
Heart muscle inflammation known as myocarditis occurs only in patients with advanced COVID-19 disease. This occurs due to direct heart invasion by the virus. When the virus directly invades the heart, it not only weakens it but also enlarges it, leading to low blood pressure and fluids in the lungs. Although this severity is rare, studies have suggested a milder form of heart muscle inflammation which is quite common than was recognized previously. Magnetic resonance imaging was seen in about three-quarters of patients who recovered fully from severe COVID-19.
Increase in Oxygen Demand and Decreased Oxygen Supply leads to Heart Problems with COVID-19
Infection and fever increase the heart rate, which speeds up the heart work in COVID-19 patients suffering from pneumonia. An increase or decrease in blood pressure causes stress on the heart leading to increased oxygen demand. This leads to heart damage especially when the arteries and muscles are weak, to begin with.
The increased clotting tendency can also lead to blood clots in the lungs, which can cause a drop in blood oxygen levels. Severe pneumonia drops blood oxygen further. When the oxygen demand exceeds the supply, the heart muscle is damaged.
COVID-19 virus increases the risk of heart attack by activating the body’s clotting system and disrupting the blood vessel lining. When inflamed, the heart lining loses the ability to resist clots. These blood clots then cut the oxygen supply in the large and small arteries.
Is there any Silver Lining for the Heart Patients?
There is a silver lining for heart patients. Patients who have CVD issues can increase their defense against COVID-19 by adopting a healthy lifestyle. This strengthens the defense against COVID-19 by reducing the long-term risk from cardiovascular disease. Engaging in physical activity, eating home-cooked food and walking outdoors with friends can help a lot. Monitoring blood pressure is also important. These small tips would strengthen the heart life further.