Anatomy of a human heart. Image: Shutterstock
Injury to the heart has been found in half of Covid-19 patients discharged from hospital after suffering severe illness from the virus, according to research.
MRI scans found heart damage in around 50% of patients whose blood tests had shown they had some degree of heart injury whilst hospitalised with severe Covid-19 infections, the research carried out by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found.
Injury was detected at least a month after discharge, the study, published in the European Heart Journal, concluded.
This included inflammation of the heart muscle, scarring or death of heart tissue, restricted blood supply to the heart and combinations of all three.
A team of researchers led by Professor Marianna Fontana, BHF fellow at University College London studied 148 patients from six acute hospitals in London. It was the largest study to date to investigate hospitalised Covid-19 patients who had raised troponin levels, which can indicate a possible problem with the heart.
However, the BHF has emphasised this finding was not applicable to those who had only minor illness from Covid-19.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, BHF associate medical director, said: “The fact that this study looked at the hearts’ of the people who’d become severely ill with Covid-19 can’t be stressed enough. These findings aren’t applicable to people who’ve had mild or asymptomatic Covid-19 infections.
“Some people in the study may have had heart damage they did not know about before they caught the virus. People who had heart damage thought to be caused by the virus often had subtle injuries which did not stop the heart pumping normally.
“More research looking at the long-term effects of severe illness is needed so that we can learn how to prevent and treat any damage that Covid-19 does to the heart,” she added.
The function of the heart’s left ventricle, the chamber responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to all parts of the body, was normal in 89% of the 148 patients, but scarring or injury to the heart muscle was present in 80 patients (54%).
The pattern of tissue scarring or injury originated from inflammation in 39 patients (26%), ischaemic heart disease, which includes infarction or ischaemia, in 32 patients (22%), or both in nine patients (6%).
Twelve patients (8%) appeared to have ongoing heart inflammation. The researchers will now follow up those people found to have heart damage to see whether it persists, the BHF said.