New Research: 75% of Past COVID Patients Now Have This Heart Condition

Updated: May 23, 2024

COVID infection repeatedly resulted in five specific changes to the cardiovascular system based on MRI scans of individuals between 18 and 83 years old.

New research reported by NPR this week revealed that many Americans who’ve experienced long COVID have suffered major career and financial setbacks as a result. Long COVID symptoms are wide-ranging, with a few of the most common including brain and cognition issues and difficulty breathing—but now a new study also indicates that cardiovascular complications from COVID-19 are remaining for months after testing positive with the virus.

The study, published in Clinical Therapeutics in May 2024, tracked the prevalence of lingering heart symptoms following COVID infection. Researchers followed 200 patients between the ages 18 and 83 (with an average age of 46) who’d been diagnosed with mild COVID between June 1, 2021 and August 31, 2021. These participants had been previously discharged from the hospital with elevated levels of troponin, a protein complex involved in regulating muscle contraction and often used as a biomarker for heart muscle damage.

According to the study, the researchers observed a variety of heart health issues persisted for patients, including:

  • Heart arrthymia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Orthostatic intolerance, a condition where the body struggles to regulate blood pressure and heart rate upon standing, which can lead to dizziness, fainting or rapid heartbeat

(The researchers also note that in general, symptoms such as clotting and “inflammatory lesions” are among the “pathological changes” that research has shown can manifest in the cardiovascular system “during coronavirus infection.”)

Resulting from their research, among 75% of recovering COVID-19 patients magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed “cardiac injury.” Testing also indicated that 73% had “supersensitive” troponin, a type of troponin that is more responsive to calcium, enhancing its role in muscle contraction and potentially leading to more dysregulated muscle contractions, which can affect heart function.

Additionally, 45% of patients had active myocardial inflammation, “emphasizing a substantial impact on the cardiovascular system,” the researchers report, adding: “Patients aged 40-60 years exhibited the highest percentage of cardiovascular diseases.”

After 60 days, researchers observed a 5-10% reduction in symptoms. After 90 days, they observed a decrease of 25-35%.

With greater than half of participants affected by serious heart problems, researchers say this indicates a “significant prevalence” among people recovering from COVID-19. “This emphasizes the necessity for heightened vigilance and specialized cardiac care when managing patients with COVID-19,” according to the study—and arguably with patients who no longer have the virus, as well.

The moral of the story for you might be that whether or not you’ve had heart issues in the past or you have a family history of cardiovascular disease—and, regardless of age—it’s crucial to be aware of how COVID symptoms may present long-term. Don’t dismiss what might seem like a minor symptom, and be sure to flag it with a licensed medical provider.