Coronavirus: Why should patients get their heart checked post COVID-19?

While millions of people in India have contracted SARS-CoV-2, the recovery rate has been quite encouraging. However, the after-effects of the disease can cause long-term health issues. A recent study by the Oxford Journal has revealed that nearly 50% of people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 have shown evidence of heart damage months after recovering from the disease.

COVID-19 infection triggers inflammation in the body that may lead to weakening the heart muscle, abnormalities in heart rhythm, and even cause clot formation in blood vessels. Second, the virus may directly invade receptor cells, known as ACE2 receptors, within the myocardial tissue and cause direct viral harm. These complications, such as myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, could lead to an increase in heart failure overtime. For people with pre-existing heart diseases, this can result in advancement in the issue or rise of different heart ailments.

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. Certain conditions, such as narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure, gradually leave your heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently. This is a chronic condition and it gradually gets worse. Medications and therapy can help a patient live longer and better with it. However, heart failure can be fatal depending on the severity of the condition.

37-year-old, Somnath Mukherjee was experiencing fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. He underwent the test for COVID-19 and the results were positive. He was diagnosed with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome and accelerated pneumonia. Post consultation the doctor, he decided to undergo the V-V ECMO treatment for Lung support with Centrimag Console & Centrimag Blood Pump. This treatment can be used as a rescue therapy in acute respiratory failure for improving the quality of life. ECMO is used to provide oxygenation and CO2 removal, or both while the lungs recover, or as a bridge to transplant in case of end stage lung disease. He was weaned from the ventilator within 15 days post his treatment, has been discharged and is now doing fine.
For patients who have recently developed chest pains post-COVID-19 or had a minor heart disease prior to being infected; getting an imaging test can be helpful. The test can show if the virus has caused lasting damage to the heart muscles. It is advised even for people who only experienced mild COVID-19 symptoms.

In the initial stages of heart failure, medication can help manage the condition, in case of advanced heart failure, treatment options such an LVAD procedure or a heart transplant along with therapy are necessary for the patient. An LVAD (left ventricular assist device) helps the left ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart) pump blood to the rest of the body. It is a feasible and safe option for management of the condition.

Heart failure signs and symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Persistent cough
  • Increased need to urinate
  • Very rapid weight gain from fluid retention
  • Lack of appetite and nausea

Although these signs and symptoms may be due to heart failure, there are many other possible causes, including other life-threatening heart conditions hence it is advised not to self-diagnose and instead immediately visit your doctor. They can stabilize your condition and determine if your symptoms are due to heart failure or something else. If one is diagnosed with heart failure and feel any of the symptoms suddenly become worse or detect a new sign or symptom, it may mean that existing heart failure has gotten worse or the heart is not responding to treatment. In this case, monitor everything carefully and report it to the doctor so they can take the necessary steps required.

Although it can be difficult living with a chronic condition like heart failure, many people learn to manage the symptoms through proper medications and treatments and go on to lead fulfilling lives.

The article has been authored by By Dr. R. Ravi Kumar, MD, DM, FESC, Sr Consultant & Clinical lead heart failure and transplantation. MGM HEALTHCARE

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