The Impact of COVID-19 on the Heart
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2022
The world continues to grapple with the dwindling COVID-19 pandemic. And researchers continue to work hard to understand the long-term effects of the virus and vaccines – especially their impact on heart health.
Some people have raised concerns about potential heart risks associated with the vaccine. Below we take a closer look at this possible link.
COVID-19 and heart conditions
While we are still learning about COVID-19, research suggests that the virus may significantly impact heart health. A 2020 study found that 1 in 3 people hospitalized with COVID-19 had evidence of damage to the heart muscle (myocardial injury). This damage was more common in older people with diabetes or other underlying health conditions.1
Myocarditis can cause various symptoms, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeat. In severe cases, myocarditis can lead to heart failure. Treatment typically involves steroids and other drugs that help to reduce inflammation.2
Sometimes, a person will need a hospital stay to receive monitoring and supportive care. With proper treatment, most people with myocarditis make a full recovery. However, some people experience long-term complications from the condition.3
Interestingly, myocardial injury was also more common in people who did not have symptoms of respiratory illness. This suggests that your heart may be affected by COVID-19 even if you do not experience severe respiratory symptoms.4
COVID-19 vaccines and heart health
Even though there is still much to learn about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on heart health, current vaccines are safe for most people with heart conditions. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with underlying medical conditions – including those with heart conditions – get vaccinated and keep up with the latest boosters.5
While the risks associated with the vaccine are relatively low, there is a slight chance that the vaccine could cause damage to your heart. The most common side effect of the vaccine is an allergic reaction. This allergic reaction can cause swelling and inflammation of the heart muscle or the outer lining of the heart. In rare cases, the reaction can be severe enough to lead to cardiac arrest.6
In addition, the risk appears to be greater after receiving a second dose of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) in men ages 5 to 17. There have been reports of rarer side effects, such as blood clots and low platelet counts. However, these side effects are extremely rare. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks, according to the CDC.6,7
Reports of death after vaccination are uncommon. Deaths and any side effects following vaccination do not always mean the vaccine is to blame.7
If you have heart issues, you can keep yourself safe and healthy by following these tips:8
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Follow a heart-healthy diet.
- Take any heart medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
- Keep an eye on any shortness of breath and chest pain.
Practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands frequently and avoiding sharing personal items, is also vital if you have heart issues.8
In addition, stay up-to-date on your vaccinations. If you are hesitant about getting vaccinated, speak with your doctor about potential risks and benefits. Understanding your personal risk can help you make an informed decision about whether to receive a vaccine.8
COVID-19 has profoundly impacted our world in many ways. Its effect on heart health is no exception. While we still have much to learn about how COVID-19 affects the heart, we know it can cause myocardial injury in some people with heart issues.6
We also know that the vaccines currently available are safe for most people with heart conditions. So if you are concerned about getting vaccinated, talk to your doctor or another healthcare provider before getting your shot.6
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