A year after they have had Covid-19, American veterans are facing more cardiovascular problems than veterans who have not had corona. It involves an increased risk of various ailments, ranging from blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, to abnormal heart rhythms, heart inflammation and heart failure. This is according to a large study published online as preprint; preliminary outcomes that have not yet been assessed by peer reviewers.
The Washington University researchers had access to many medical records of retired and non-retired US military personnel through Veteran Affairs. They identified a group of more than 150,000 individuals who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 before January 15, 2021. Their cardiovascular health, on average one year after the Covid-19 diagnosis, was compared with that of 3.6 million other veterans who had not contracted a corona infection. To also filter out the effect of possible indirect influences on the pandemic, they also compared it with the cardiovascular data of 3.6 million veterans from 2017, pre-corona.
It is clear that a SARS-CoV-2 infection can have an acute effect on the heart and circulation, especially in the event of a serious infection and hospitalization. But the question is whether it will also have negative consequences a year or years later. “This research is still a bit premature”, responds Folkert Asselbergs, cardiologist at UMC Utrecht to the American study. “A year later is not really a long term, and you must be suspicious of the conclusions in the conclusions, because people with underlying suffering become more seriously ill from corona and can therefore also have more left over from it. Like a kind of flywheel effect.”
The question is whether it also affects previously healthy people, says Asselbergs. In his daily practice, Asselbergs does not notice a sudden increase in heart patients due to Covid-19. “But on MRI images we sometimes see scars in the heart of patients, an indication that there has been an inflammation there. But whether that scar can still become the cause of cardiac arrhythmia years later, for example, we don’t know yet.”
Asselbergs and his colleagues started their own research at the beginning of this month to map the long-term consequences of Covid-19. “It looks like the cardiovascular damage in the short term appears to be not that bad,” says Asselbergs, “but we also want to know whether that will still be the case in ten years’ time.”
In itself, the individual extra risks after Covid-19 are also not that bad in the American research. The problem lies in the large numbers of people, the Americans write. Given the high number of Covid-19 infections (already more than 43 million in the US, two million in the Netherlands), “the risks reported here could translate into an increase in the burden of cardiovascular disease,” the authors say.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of October 12, 2021