As concerns about long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart grow, cardiologists advise survivors, especially those in sporting activities, not to resume exercise immediately after recovery.
Cardiologists, in a study published online in peer-reviewed journal JAMA Cardiology, say it is important for COVID-19 survivors to go for medical evaluation to be sure that they have no cardiac injury, urging athletes in particular to heed the warning.
Study authors, led by a specialist in cardiovascular diseases at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre, Saurabh Rajpal, say, apart from the lungs, COVID-19 could ravage other parts of the body, including the brain, blood vessels, and heart.
Data from initial outbreaks in China, New York City, and Washington suggest that 20 to 30 percent of patients hospitalised with COVID-19 showed signs of cardiac injury.
The scientists revealed that new evidence is emerging that the virus can cause heart damage, even in people who have had mild symptoms or none at all, especially if those people exercise while they are infected.
Citing their concerns over what they call myocarditis in recent studies, the experts noted that strenuous activity while the heart is weakened can cause swelling in the legs, dizziness, shortness of breath, and, in serious cases, irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrest, and sudden death.
Myocarditis, the cardiologists say happens when the muscular walls of the heart become inflamed, weakening the organ and making it more difficult for it to pump blood.
“It’s not a newly discovered condition, and it turns up pretty rarely, but when it does, it’s most often triggered by an infection. Viruses, bacteria, even invading amoebas, yeasts, and worms have all been shown to cause it,” they said in the publication.
According to online sources, just last month, former Florida State basketball player Michael Ojo died of apparent heart complications while playing in a pro league in Serbia, shortly after the 27-year-old had recovered from COVID-19.
Rajpal, said, “The need is especially critical because so many people who get infected with the coronavirus don’t know it.
“And they might unwittingly do things like exercising that could damage their hearts during or immediately after their infection.
“Amateur athletes especially, like marathoners, ultrarunners, triathletes, and others who clock a lot of miles but don’t have access to regular cardiac screenings might not be aware enough of the risks to make judgments about the safety of their training regimens.
“So, pay extra-close attention to your body if you’re going out for a hard run, bike ride, or other sporting activity, especially if you have any inkling of sickness.
“If you experience any suspicious symptoms — chest pain, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations — contact your doctor.
“And if you have tested positive for COVID-19, you should take a few weeks off before returning gradually to the level of training you were at before.”
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a Consultant Physician and Cardiologist with Providence Multi-Specialty Hospital, Abuja, Dr. John Asekhame, said COVID-19 has multi-systemic effect, stressing that it does not affect the lungs alone but other organs of the body as well.
According to him, because of the damage caused by the virus, the body would recover in different degrees.
Dr. Asekhame explained, “The level of the lungs that were affected during the infection might affect the level of recovery. Just as the level of the heart disease or the level of the heart that was affected will determine recovery.
“If you were involved in sports before contracting COVID-19, after recovery, you need to see your doctor to assess if you are okay before resuming your activities.
“If you are okay, then you have a plan to get back to shape. For someone who is a weight lifter, he doesn’t start by lifting a 100kg weight immediately after recovery. He starts slowly and goes back up.”
“So, if you were ill, you need to see your doctor to evaluate you to know when to go back to exercise. With your sports doctor, you can work out an exercise plan,” Asekhame added.
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