This symptom in people with ‘long COVID’ may signal heart damage

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In a new study from the University Hospital Brussels, researchers found that COVID-19 patients who continue to be short of breath during physical activity one year after recovering from the infection may have suffered heart damage.

The findings could help to explain why some patients with long COVID still experience breathlessness one year later and indicate that it might be linked to a decrease in heart performance.

There is increasing evidence of heart complications due to COVID-19 and of long-lasting symptoms such as dyspnoea (shortness of breath), known as long COVID.

In the study, the team tested 66 patients without previous heart or lung disease who were hospitalized with COVID-19 between March and April 2020.

At one year after hospital discharge, they examined the lung functions and possible sequela of COVID-19 in these people.

The average age of participants was 50 years and 67% were men. At one year, 23 patients (35%) had shortness of breath during effort.

The researchers showed that abnormal heart function was independently and significantly associated with persistent shortness of breath.

Cardiac imaging revealed poorer heart performance in patients with versus without dyspnoea at one year after hospitalization due to COVID-19.

The findings suggest that more than a third of COVID-19 patients with no history of heart or lung disease had persistent dyspnoea on effort a year after discharge from the hospital.

When looking in detail at heart function by cardiac ultrasound, the team found subtle abnormalities that might explain the continued breathlessness.

They suggest future studies including different COVID-19 variants and the impact of vaccination are needed to confirm the results on the long-term evolution and possible cardiac consequences of this disease.

If you care about COVID, please read studies about how many people get ‘long COVID’ – and who is most at risk and findings of signs of ‘long COVID’ that could be found in eyes.

For more information about the pandemic, please see recent studies about people can lose 80% of their COVID-19 immunity 6 months after Pfizer shot, and results showing that COVID-19 vaccine booster could effectively protect those 60 and older.

The study was presented at EuroEcho 2021. One author of the study is Dr. Maria-Luiza Luchian.

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