COVID: How does the virus affect your heart?

Some patients that have recovered from a COVID infection still suffer from chest pain and shortness of breath. How can this be explained?

Does the coronavirus affect the heart permanently? This is the question that many scientists have been asking since the beginning of the epidemic. It seems as though, even when the virus infection is cleared up, many patients continue to experience symptoms such as chest pain, extreme fatigue or shortness of breath.

Long-term heart problems

From the start of the pandemic, researchers found that the virus was attacking the brain, lungs, but also the heart and blood vessels. Indeed, some patients had abnormally high levels of blood clots, which could lead to heart attacks and strokes.

'We realised early on that clotting played a major role,' says Jeffrey Berger, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at NYU Langone Health.

It is fortunate that doctors understood this early on because the use of anticoagulants reduced the risk of death. However, cardiovascular problems caused by the virus can be prolonged beyond recovery. Even in asymptomatic patients.

Read: How to tackle your long COVID symptoms

What effect does COVID-19 have on the heart?

Science does not yet have all the answers as to why heart problems persist after a coronavirus infection, and how to treat them. But according to some studies, such as the one published in the journal Science Advances last September, the virus is able to enter the megakaryocytes, the cells in the bone marrow that produce platelets.

Once infected, the cells modify the genetic material of the platelets, leading to an increase in their activity and thus to inflammation of the blood vessel walls. This can lead to the formation of clots in the vessels and their spread to the rest of the body.

The virus also causes a weakening of the connections between the tissues lining the blood vessels, making them less watertight in the presence of clots.

Leads to potential treatments

Many questions remain about the long-term consequences of the virus, but almost two years after the start of the pandemic, researchers are gaining a better understanding of the virus' mechanisms, and hope to soon propose treatments that could reduce the severity of its consequences, particularly with regard to cardiovascular problems.

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