A disturbing report recently published in the journal Nature Medicine suggests that even a mild case of COVID can increase the long-term risk of serious cardiovascular disease such as stroke, heart attack and heart failure. The study highlights our limited understanding of the full implications of COVID infection and the long-term effects of the COVID pandemic.
There are now more than 10 million cases of acute COVID infection in Australia and more than 14,000 deaths, with at least 600 million more people infected worldwide. The immediate effects of COVID infection on the heart are well documented: myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) is an uncommon but potentially fatal complication. However, myocarditis occurs in only 40 people per million infected.
The big concern raised by this new study is that the medium- and long-term harm to the body’s network of blood vessels (the vascular system) may be much more widespread. And this could lead to a new pandemic of cardiovascular disease in the coming years.
A University of Washington-led study has shown an increased risk of future cardiovascular events among people who have recovered from COVID.
The authors analyzed the medical records of about 150,000 US veterans, who are often studied because they are a well-documented group within a separate healthcare system. They compared the rates of cardiovascular disease in veterans who had a COVID infection with those of uninfected controls, which included about 10 million people.
Between 30 days and a year after recovering from COVID, surviving veterans were 52% more likely to have a stroke, 63% more likely to have a heart attack, and 72% more likely to have heart failure. This means that in one year, for every 1,000 people who had COVID, there were five additional strokes, three additional heart attacks, and 12 additional cases of heart failure. There has also been evidence of an increased risk of serious blood clots in the lungs.
While these numbers may seem small to some, when you factor in the 600 million cases of COVID around the world, the implications are enormous.
One particularly worrying finding was that while people with more severe acute COVID infections had the highest risk of cardiovascular events over the next year, even those with a mild infection were at increased risk. And this risk was not limited to those who already had heart problems – it could affect anyone.