COVID-19 illness, even mild cases, can leave people with a significantly higher risk of life-threatening heart problems, a new study found.
In one of the most detailed studies of COVID-19’s long-term effects, researchers have found that the virus considerably increases the risk of heart issues such as failures, strokes, and irregularities, as well as the chance of deadly blood clots in the legs and lungs, for at least a year after infection.
Even in people with mild cases, the risk of heart failure increased by 72%, heart attacks by 63%, and stroke by 52%.
Before vaccines were available, the researchers, led by Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, collected data from 153,760 COVID-19 patients for up to a year.
They compared the patients’ cardiovascular health and any heart problems to two control groups: one from the same time period of more than 5.6 million people who did not contract COVID-19 and the other of 5.8 million veterans before the pandemic.
The patients had received medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, so they were mostly white men, but even after age and race were taken into account, the high risks stayed.
“It was a bit of a moment for us when we realized it was evident in all of these subgroups, including younger adults, older adults, Black people, white people, people with obesity and those without,” Al-Aly told NBC News. “The risk was everywhere.”
The study, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine last week, is also consistent with previous research on how COVID-19 affects the heart.
Al-Aly stated in a Twitter thread that their research is a warning that countries will start to see an increase in cardiovascular problems in their populations.
“Governments and health systems around the world should be prepared to deal with the likely significant contribution of the COVID-19 pandemic to a rise in the burden of cardiovascular diseases,” he said. “Because of the chronic nature of these conditions, they will likely have long-lasting consequences for patients and health systems and also have broad implications on economic productivity and life expectancy.”
“Addressing the challenges posed by Long COVID will require a much needed, but so far lacking, urgent and coordinated long-term global response strategy.”