According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with heart disease are six times more likely to end up in a hospital if they get COVID-19 and 12 times as likely to die from the virus.
But those with moderate-to-severe cases are more likely to have lingering heart damage.
“People who are sick enough to go into the hospital with COVID-19, about 25% will have some evidence of inflammation of the heart,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU Medicine’s chief COVID-19 officer.
That sounds scary, but it’s important to remember that many people who develop severe COVID-19 had heart issues before they got sick.
“What COVID-19 has done, it has unmasked what we knew already — which is that we are not treating hypertension well,” Dr. Willie Lawrence said.
Lawrence, who oversees a $32 million federally funded initiative with the American Heart Association, said the goal is to combat hypertension among racial and ethnic populations and, in turn, improve COVID-19-related outcomes. Hypertension — also known as high blood pressure — has been called “the silent killer” because many people aren’t effectively treated or don’t know they have it.
“There’s nothing silent about a stroke. There’s nothing silent about being on dialysis. And there’s nothing silent about being hospitalized and dying alone with COVID in an intensive care unit,” Lawrence said.
Bratzler said the virus’ impact on the heart is being actively studied.
“In two-thirds of patients, they actually found the virus in the heart — not necessarily in the heart muscle but in the inflammatory cells that were in the heart,” Bratzler said. “Remember, we know that in COVID-19, the late stages of the disease are characterized by inflammation and immune response. So, it wasn’t surprising that they found inflammatory cells with the virus in the heart.”
The CDC doesn’t currently recommend seeing a cardiologist post-COVID-19 for mild cases.