COVID-19 linked to rise in heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems

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While the worst of the pandemic appears to be over, hospitals are now dealing with the after-effects of COVID-19 infections, as a growing number of studies have shown a link between virus and heart-related problems, particularly among young people.

“We’ve known for a long time actually that COVID does affect the heart through a number of mechanisms,” cardiologist Dr. Christopher Overgaard said. “We know that it can attack the heart directly through inflammation, it can actually increase the ability for your arteries to clot.”

Last September, a study led by Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles found that while the virus was associated with an increase in heart attacks in all age groups, those between the ages of 25 and 44 saw the highest increase. Heart attack rates in this age group increased 29.9 per cent, compared to 19.6 per cent for those aged 45-64 and 13.7 per cent for those aged 65 and over.

For young people, Overgaard says the symptoms are “no different” than those seen in older adults.

“I think it’s more on the medical professionals and patients to be aware of the symptoms. So classic symptoms would be exertional chest pain and chest pain that’s severe at rest, radiating down your arm. And when you see these things, you should seek medical attention,” he said.

Another study from March 2022 that looked at 150,000 U.S. veterans found that those who had been infected with COVID-19 were 72 per cent more likely to get coronary artery disease, caused by plaque buildup on the arterial walls. In addition, this group was 63 per cent more likely to have a heart attack and 52 more likely to have a stroke.

Meanwhile, a Canadian study from 2021 found that 45 per cent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had “cardiac injury.”

Some COVID-19 vaccines have also been linked to heart inflammation in rare cases. However, studies have shown that the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risk of inflammation, and getting the virus has a far higher risk of inflammation compared to the vaccine.

“There has been a link between the vaccine and inflammation around the heart — something called pericarditis or myocarditis — but we’ve not seen an increase in actual heart attacks related to the vaccine,” Overgaard explained.

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