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Doctors warn of heart damage in up to one-fourth of COVID-19 hospitalized patients

Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 4:36 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -Even though we’re about year into the pandemic, there are still a lot of things we don’t know about long-term effects from coronavirus. That includes any lasting impact on the heart.

“Even people with healthy hearts coming in with COVID-19, if they’re serious enough to be hospitalized, oftentimes they do have cardiac complications during their hospitalization,” explains Dr. Scott Weslow, an interventional cardiologist with Aurora BayCare Cardiology in Green Bay.

February is designated as Heart Month, so this is always a busy time of year for him, but this year, heart health has new meaning and new attention for people who’ve never before thought much about it.

Dr. Weslow says the number of people suffering heart attacks isn’t changing during COVID-19, but more people are seeing damaged or weakened heart muscle.

“Ten to 25 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 will have some amount of heart muscle damage from their infection,” Dr. Weslow says.

A blood test is used to determine heart damage and can detect even a very small amount of damage.

While this is affecting patients of all ages, and the damage varies from case to case, Dr. Weslow says cardiologists are being called to the hospital more often to assess COVID-19 patients’ hearts.

It’s still so early in a relatively new virus, though, that doctors still need more data to know what to tell them long-term.

“If it affects enough of the heart muscle, you can have weak heart muscle. So the natural question is, does that get better? Will my heart muscle strengthen back up? And we’re not quite sure of that yet,” he says.

What he is sure of -- everyone can use this as a reason to take heart health seriously, especially for those who got off-track with exercise amid closed gyms and poor eating habits while spending more time at home.

For people who want to start exercising after recovering from COVID-19, he says it’s a good idea, but you should listen to your body and watch for changes like shortness of breath.

And along with all that advice, he offers these parting words: give your heart a break.

It’s doctor’s orders.

“Don’t live in fear. Fear causes anxiety and stress, and those things are bad for you. We’ll get through this. Don’t live your day to day life in fear. It’s not worth it, and it’s not good for you,” Dr. Weslow says.

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