The impact of COVID-19 on the lungs and the rest of the respiratory tract has been evident since the early days of the pandemic. The name of the virus that causes the disease—severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)—tells us as much.
Growing data, however, suggests the virus can also cause serious complications and damage to the heart, even in cases with mild or no symptoms.
In an overview of scientific research on the matter published today in the journal Science, Eric Topol, MD, a practicing cardiologist who is also founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and executive vice president at Scripps Research, summarizes existing evidence showcasing the diverse spectrum of heart abnormalities that SARS-CoV-2 infection can cause.
While no other human coronaviruses have been shown to impact the heart, people with SARS-CoV-2 have developed complications such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), necrosis of the heart cells (cell death leading to injury), improper heartbeats and even heart failure.
The true prevalence of these heart manifestations is yet to be determined. As Topol points out, around 40 percent of SARS-CoV-2 infections occur without symptoms, and so far, not enough imaging studies have been conducted in people who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 or are seropositive without exhibiting symptoms, to determine the full impact of silent infections on the heart.
There is also troubling evidence that these heart complications are impacting young, otherwise healthy individuals, Topol writes. He outlines several reports of teenagers and young athletes with mild COVID-19 having been found to have unsuspected cardiac involvement.
To date, SARS-CoV-2 has infected close to 30 million people globally, with over 930,000 recorded deaths.
Topol stresses that gaining a better understanding of what drives COVID-19-related heart manifestations is of paramount importance to addressing the multitude of health challenges linked to the disease.
About Scripps Research Scripps Research is an independent, nonprofit biomedical institute ranked the most influential in the world for its impact on innovation. With campuses in La Jolla, California, and Jupiter, Florida, we are advancing human health through profound discoveries that address pressing medical concerns around the globe. Our drug discovery and development division, Calibr, works hand-in-hand with scientists across disciplines to bring new medicines to patients as quickly and efficiently as possible, while teams at Scripps Research Translational Institute harness genomics, digital medicine and cutting-edge informatics to understand individual health and render more effective healthcare. Scripps Research also trains the next generation of leading scientists at our Skaggs Graduate School, consistently named among the top 10 U.S. programs for chemistry and biological sciences. Learn more at www.scripps.edu.