COVID-19 infections increase risk of heart conditions, new analysis finds

Heike Trautmann/Unsplash

A new analysis of federal health data has found those who contracted novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are at increased risk of cardiovascular complications within the first month to a year after infection.

The study, conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Using national healthcare databases from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, researchers evaluated 153,760 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 from March 1, 2020, through Jan. 15, 2021, and who survived the first 30 days of the virus. Few participants in the study were vaccinated, as vaccines were not yet widely available during the time of enrollment.

Two sets of control cohorts who did not contract the virus were also used to compare cardiovascular outcomes. One group had 5.6 million patients who did not have COVID-19 during the same time frame; and a control group of more than 5.8 million people who were patients from March 2018 through January 2019, well before the onset of the pandemic.

Compared with those in the control groups without any infections, people who contracted COVID-19 were 72 percent more likely to suffer from coronary artery disease, 63 percent more likely to have a heart attack, and 52 percent more likely to experience a stroke, according to the study.

Overall, those infected with the virus were 55 percent more likely than those without COVID-19 to suffer a major adverse cardiovascular event, which includes heart attack, stroke, and death.

The study concluded that beyond the first 30 days of infection, individuals with COVID-19 are at increased risk of incident cardiovascular disease spanning several categories, including cerebrovascular disorders, dysrhythmias, ischemic and non-ischemic heart disease, pericarditis, myocarditis, heart failure, and thromboembolic disease. These findings were evident even among those who were not hospitalized during the acute phase of the infection, according to the study.

In addition, the study found that these risks spanned age, race, sex, and other cardiovascular risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and hyperlipidemia. Researchers also discovered that these risks were present in people without any prior cardiovascular disease.

The study did not include data reflecting the virus’ delta and omicron variants, as those variants had not yet spread at the time of the study.

Integrative practitioners who are treating COVID-19 patients, can keep this information in mind and incorporate more strategies for cardiovascular health in their post-infection care.