Signs of heart injury in hospitalized COVID-19 patients could be precursors to longer-lasting heart problems, researchers have found.
They studied 148 survivors of severe COVID-19 who had high levels of troponin - a protein released when the heart has been injured - while they were hospitalized.
An average of two months after they left the hospital, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) still showed some sort of heart issue in 48% of the patients, including heart attacks, heart muscle inflammation, inadequate blood flow, or some combination of those problems, the researchers reported in the European Heart Journal.
Among patients with heart attacks or inadequate cardiac blood flow, two-thirds had no past history of coronary disease. "Ultimately, we cannot definitely establish a link between the abnormalities detected on these cardiovascular magnetic resonance scans and the acute COVID-19 infection," the authors said.
But the high prevalence of the abnormalities "suggests a likely link." Dr. Matthew Toomey, cardiac ICU director at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study, noted: "We don't have the benefit of long-term follow-up to see what it will develop into."
He added that he was guardedly optimistic that most patients will not end up with heart failure.