Cardiologist discusses growing concerns over COVID-related heart issues and athletes

Local News

(WEHT) — Dr. Fahmi Farah, a cardiologist, joined Brandon Bartlett to talk about growing concerns over COVID-related heart issues and athletes. 


Brandon: Dr. Farah, thanks for joining us tonight. Let’s talk about this recent study that found that one in seven college athletes who had recovered from COVID-19 had heart damage. And none of those athletes had known heart conditions before they got COVID. How concerned should we be about this?

Dr. Farah: Hi, thank you for having me on your show. It’s a pleasure to be here. We it is concerning because it’s it’s true. A lot of athletes are affected with COVID-19. You know, COVID-19, one of the things that’s causing is inflammation of the heart muscle itself. That condition is called Myo carditis. Not everybody’s having it. But a lot of people are getting this. We had a recent study in JAMA that published Actually, we had two different studies in JAMA. One was an autopsy study that showed 39 patients were noted to have inflammation of the heart muscle followed by another study that was an MRI, cardiac MRI study of 100 different COVID patients that showed that 78% of them were having ongoing inflammation of the heart muscle, and 60% of those patients who had the inflammation did not have any symptoms or had very mild symptoms. So there’s implication for this, especially for athletes, because when there’s inflammation of the heart muscle, they are at risk. They’re at a serious risk of having fatal cardiac arrhythmias, such as ventricular arrhythmia, like ventricular fibrillation, or ventricular tachycardia, that can cause them to, to just kind of pass out and not have a pulse, basically, a cardiac arrest, it can also expose them to having heart failure, because when heart muscle is inflamed, it becomes weak, it can cause the heart to not be able to pump as efficiently and they can go into heart failure. The other thing it can cause the inflammation that the COVID-19 infection is causing to the heart muscle is that the muscle itself becomes leaky, and causes fluid to build up. And that fluid can build up around the heart, heart sits in a casing called the pericardium. So this condition is called pericardial. effusion, which is a large amount of fluid can build up around the heart and cause it to be hemodynamically compromised. And that too can be fatal in many cases. So these are very serious complications that can come out of COVID-19 infection, it is important for athletes, because one of the treatments for the main treatment, in fact, for inflammation of the heart muscle is rest. And according to the most recent European Society of Cardiology guidelines, the recommended time of rest is between three to six months to be able to fully recover from this condition. And athletes, you know, they’re it’s difficult for them to accept that and to sit out from their sports for so many months. And and that’s why I believe it’s a very serious issue that we ought to look at more carefully. We should be screening athletes who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have recovered, we should they should undergo cardiac evaluation to make sure that they do not have inflammation of their heart muscle to avoid such catastrophe.

Brandon: So do you think that most of the athletes will recover from that damage? Or is there a possibility it could be long term?

Dr. Farah: As you know, COVID-19 is a very new thing. So we have yet to see how it’ll play out over time. And typically they do recover they do very well as long as the appropriate amount of time is given; the resting time is very, very crucial. We know that if the adequate time is not allowed for the heart muscle to recover from this inflammation, it can get worse it can accelerate the damage to the heart and perhaps even be, you know permanent. And that’s something we want to avoid but typically statistically, as long as the right amount of treatment is given and the right amount of time is a lot for recovery. The prognosis is good. It has been with other viruses In the past.

Brandon: What do you recommend? Do you recommend that athletes, even high school student athletes be examined?

Dr. Farah: Yes, because you know, sports and the athletes, they are very high functioning individuals they’re running, it’s vigorous type of exercise. So those people, these athletes, even high school students, who are, who have been infected with COVID-19, and have actually recovered, I do think that it’s a good idea for them to be under the care of a medical professional, especially a cardiologist to go go through some basic testing, cardiac testing and screening to make sure that they’re not at high risk for having inflammation of the heart muscle and that they’re not susceptible to having long term damage.

Brandon: Are there any signs or symptoms these young people would develop that would alert them to possible heart damage?

Dr. Farah: Yes, so not everybody gets the symptoms. But some of the common symptoms for Myo carditis, which is the inflammation would be fatigue, shortness of breath, they can have chest pain, swelling in their legs. So all of these are, they can be Symptoms And Signs of myocarditis. But again, a lot of there are a lot of athletes and people out there who are completely asymptomatic and they just don’t know, until they get into the exercise phase, and they sustained further damage and becomes symptomatic.

Brandon: Is there anything that can be done to prevent this?

Dr. Farah: Well, the best prevention would be to, you know, take all the measures to not get COVID-19 such as maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, washing your hands, the best best measure is prevention, honestly. And if despite all of that, you know, you do get COVID-19. And I really think screening is the way to go.

Brandon: All right, a lot of great advice there tonight. Thank you so much for being with us tonight. I appreciate it.

Dr. Farah: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.

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