It is wrong to think that once the COVID infection subsides, we are done with the coronavirus and are safe forever. COVID impacts many organs of the body, and the impact remains even after the infection. This respiratory disease is seen to be affecting lungs, heart, stomach people even after recovering from it.
“COVID-19 is a perfect storm for the heart– was the statement issued by the World Heart Federation (WHF) at the beginning of the pandemic which turned out to be true. COVID is a pro-inflammatory condition and leads to inflammation of the heart which can manifest as Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or Pericarditis which is inflammation of the sac containing the heart,” says Dr Praveen P Sadarmin, Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Narayana Health City, Bangalore.
COVID and heartbeat rate
An increase in heart beat after recovering from COVID has been seen in many people. Normal heart rate varies between 60 to 100; an increase in that, leading to a condition called tachycardia, is a reason to worry about. In COVID, many patients have complained of many heart related issues like experiencing a fast beating heart even after recovery.
Tachycardia is the condition in which an increase in the heart rate is observed; it can either start in the heart’s lower chambers called the ventricles or in the upper chambers called atria.
Post-COVID many people experience faster heartbeats even with mild activities. People who used to work for hours together before COVID, feel accelerated heart rate after COVID. In such cases the heart beat increases to 95-100 even after doing small physical activities like walking for short distances. While in many patients this condition resolves after a while, in many others it lingers for sometime. Moreover, a fluctuation in the heart beat is devastating for those who have a previous record of heart diseases.
A 2021 research study published in the Lancet revealed that in the week after a COVID-19 diagnosis, the risk of a first heart attack increased by three to eight times. The study which was done on 87,000 people, of which 57% were women, also found that in the following weeks, risks of blood clot and heart attack decreased steadily but stayed elevated for at least a month.
A similar observation was revealed by the COVID Symptom Study app. The app found that COVID-19 is a reason for irregular, and increased heart rates. The app has over 4 million users worldwide.
“Fever and infection cause the heart rate to speed up, increasing the work of the heart in COVID-19 patients who develop pneumonia. Blood pressure may drop or spike, causing further stress on the heart, and the resulting increase in oxygen demand can lead to heart damage, especially if the heart arteries or muscle were unhealthy to begin with,” says a report by Harvard Health.
Experts also link COVID to heart problems like myocarditis and pericarditis. ” Outcomes are worse for COVID patients with cardiovascular disease and acute cardiac injury has been reported in many studies ranging from 8% to even 62% and has been associated with greater disease severity, including the need for mechanical ventilation and death,” says Dr Sadarmin.
“Coronavirus infection also affects the inner surfaces of veins and arteries, which can cause blood vessel inflammation, damage to very small vessels and blood clots, all of which can compromise blood flow to the heart or other parts of the body,” explain experts at John Hopkins.
Complications that can arise due to high heart rate
“Tachycardia secondary to cardiac conditions is always harmful and need prompt treatment. The heart rate can go up to 150-200 beats per minute and is potentially fatal if untreated,” says Dr Sadarmin and goes on to explain that,”with each heartbeat, the heart carries its basic function of pumping blood to the rest of the body. The electrical system and the mechanical system of the heart are in sync and with each beat, a fixed amount of blood is pumped to the rest of the body. The faster the heart starts beating, the less blood it will pump and with extremely fast heart rates, the heart stops pumping blood and starts fluttering with no pumping activity. There will be less blood supply to the brain and the patient experiences dizziness. Further the person may collapse and die.”
An increased heart rate affects a person’s physical fitness and people with higher heart rate usually do not have good heart health, says Dr Sameer Dani, Senior interventional cardiologist and director, Apollo CVHF, Ahmedabad and adds that people with less variability and higher heart rates have higher chances of a heart attack and other cardiac disorders like heart failure. “Fit people like athletes have lower heart rates,” he says.
A number of symptoms show up in people post COVID. Palpitations, dizzy, chest discomfort, severe fatigue, shortness of breath, are some of the indications of a poor heart health post COVID say experts at John Hopkins.
It is therefore imperative to understand all the symptoms and take medical assistance at the earliest.
Dr Dani says once the heartbeat crosses 100 beats per minute, noticeable changes like palpitation, breathlessness and discomfort become visible.
Risk factors to know
A study has found that compared with the control groups, Covid patients were 1.7 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disorders, 1.5 times more likely to develop stroke and 1.7 times more likely to have dysregulated heart rhythm.
“Patients who are at risk of developing heart problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, smokers are also at more risk of developing serious COVID related to the heart. Therefore it is very important to address these risk factors adequately to reduce the overall risk of cardiac illness, says Dr Sadarmin and emphasizes on regular follow up with the cardiologist. “The very long term effects of COVID are still unknown,” he says.
What are the tests one should go for ideally?
Get ECHO and ECG tests done if you notice any symptoms related to heart problems, say the experts.
Linking COVID hospitalization to more attention towards heart health, Dr Sadarmin says, “If you have had significant COVID requiring hospitalisation or requiring oxygen therapy, you should get checked with the cardiologist once you have completely recovered, for a basic ECG and Echo test. It is needless to say that you should consult your cardiologist if you suffer from symptoms like chest pain or breathlessness.”
- What is the normal heart rate?
The normal resting heart rate for adults is between 60 to 100 beats per minute.
- How does COVID impact the heartbeat rate?
In many people, COVID leads to an increase in heartbeat rate leading to a condition called tachycardia. Experts also link COVID to heart problems like myocarditis and pericarditis.
- What are the symptoms of COVID induced heart issues?
Palpitations, dizzy, chest discomfort, severe fatigue, and shortness of breath are some of the common symptoms of COVID induced heart problem.