A: In short, yes—COVID-19 infection can damage your heart.
Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart, and recently social media has been blowing up with reports of athletes opting out of play due to myocarditis. We’ve got your back to give you some answers about myocarditis.
The most recent reports suggest that myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, may be fairly common in COVID-19, and it can happen even in people with little or no symptoms.
Myocarditis may occur from infection of the heart muscle itself or from an overzealous immune response. We don’t yet know how often this happens or what the long-term consequences might be.
The symptoms of myocarditis include chest pain or tightness, feeling like your heart is racing or skipping a beat, fatigue and less ability to exercise, passing out, trouble breathing, and swelling in feet and legs.
Hold the phone. Aren’t some of these the same symptoms as COVID-19 anyway?
Yes. It can be tricky to pick apart the specific origins of some of these symptoms. Most of the time, symptoms of COVID-19 get better with a little time and TLC. But if symptoms aren’t getting better or are getting worse, your doctor might start looking at the heart to make sure it is ok. Some symptoms (like chest pain or passing out!) are red flags and should prompt immediate medical attention. Your doctor may do special tests such as bloodwork, EKG, or MRI.
Technically, you need a biopsy of the heart muscle to diagnose myocarditis (yikes!). However, you can be diagnosed with “clinically suspected myocarditis” if you have any of the symptoms, including changes in the electrical activity in your heart seen on EKG, changes in function or structure of your heart (seen on imaging like an MRI), or increased levels of heart enzyme that leak into the blood when heart cells are damaged.
As for what all of this means practically speaking, right now doctors think most people who have heart inflammation with little or no symptoms will recover without lasting problems. If you get myocarditis, the treatment depends on how sick you are. You may just be monitored and have to change your level of activity. You may need medicine to help you breathe more comfortably, keep fluid from building up in your body, or tamp down your immune response. Severe cases might need hospitalization.
Kids looking to return to sports will be asked about symptoms of myocarditis and may get additional testing before they can play.
As always, this post is not medical advice! Talk to your doctor about your questions and any symptoms you might have.
For a good rundown on COVID19 and myocarditis, check out this link.
For general info on myocarditis, check out this link.