Cardiovascular Complications of a Menacing Virus

MUSC Health
January 20, 2021
Dr. Sam Rahman
Dr. Sam Rahman is an interventional cardiologist at MUSC Health on the main campus of MUSC Health Florence Medical Center.

By: Sam Rahman, M.D.

December 31, 2020 will mark the first anniversary of reporting the Coronavirus Disease, which was identified in Wuhan, China. The virus was dubbed with the acronym COVID-19, to distinguish it from the other members of the family of viruses known as the Coronaviruses. The novel virus proved to be more infectious and lethal than its predecessors, infecting the highest number of individuals in the modern era, and causing significant strain to both the health care system and economy.

The COVID-19 virus is airborne, and primarily targets the respiratory tract, or airways. Infected individuals may develop a severe form of pulmonary infection or pneumonia; potentially leading to serious consequences, and even death. Other systems can be affected, including the cardiovascular system.

The virus invades cells through receptors located on the cell’s surface. The heart and lungs have an abundance of these receptors, which, under normal circumstances, play an important role in regulating the function of the cardiovascular system. By binding to these receptors, the virus can disrupt the normal function and cause injury to the heart muscle cells and the blood vessel lining. Severe forms of COVID-19 infections are characterized by severe inflammatory responses that can damage the cardiovascular cells. Blood clots are more likely to form in the small blood vessels when the body is under severe stress and inflammation. This can cause injury to the heart muscles leading to heart attacks and even causing more organ failure. Abnormal heart rhythms can also occur in patients infected with COVID-19.

Population studies have shown that patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease are more susceptible to the virus, and more inclined to have critical outcomes and even death. However, COVID-19 can also cause an acute cardiac illness in healthy individuals without a pre-existing cardiac condition. It is important to note that young patients may die from COVID-19 as well. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the difference between COVID-19 and cardiovascular disease because of the overlapping symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain, and abnormal heart rhythms.

Since the start of the pandemic, the scientific and medical communities are continuing to gain knowledge about the virus and its treatment. Most recently, vaccines have been made and have undergone testing. It is important to recognize that, just like influenza vaccine, the vaccines currently under trial do not completely prevent infection, and, there are concerns they may not be the final solution needed to end the pandemic. There is still hope, however, that the vaccines will make a big difference within the next few months and may prevent severe illness and death. In the meantime, people need to do their share in adopting public health measures in order to curb the ferocious surge the country is currently experiencing. The three rules of effective prevention of the disease remain unchanged: Wearing a mask in public places, avoiding indoor crowded places, and washing hands. These precautions could not be over emphasized when it comes to patients with heart disease.

Dr. Sam Rahman is an interventional cardiologist at MUSC Health – Cardiology, in Florence on the main campus of MUSC Health Florence Medical Center. He is accepting patients. For more information please call 843-674-4787.

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Keywords: COVID-19, Cardiology, Florence Medical Center