More research needed for answers about long-term COVID-19 effects on the heart

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 10:37 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Medical experts say there’s still a lot that’s unknown about COVID-19. One thing they are learning is that an infection can affect not only your lungs but your heart, too.

Dr. Dan Anderson, a cardiologist with Nebraska Medicine, says doctors are seeing signs of myocarditis in people who have had COVID-19 – in some cases, weeks after the initial infection. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by tissue damage that can lead to serious consequences.

“Once heart tissue is damaged, you don’t recover from it. You’ve lost a piece of the heart you will never regain, so protecting the heart is important,” said Dr. Anderson.

But exactly how much damage COVID-19 does to the heart tissue isn’t known just yet.

“How much injury you need and how long the injury lasts and how much scar tissue you develop all has to be determined,” he said.

According to recent reports, uncertainty about the medical risks for athletes was partly to blame for conferences, like the Big Ten, postponing their 2020 football seasons - one university doctor even citing myocarditis.

Meanwhile, most metro high school districts are playing this fall. Six News asked parents if they’re worried about the future health of their kids.

“Athletes are in shape, so I hope they have the heart and lungs that can tolerate being on the field and handling strenuous activity,” said Elkhorn parent Dennis Sexton. “Beyond that, I’m not a medical professional, and if it’s a real concern they can address it as needed.”

Tom Goetz’s son tested positive for COVID-19 over the summer. He’s confident his son, a senior at Roncalli Catholic, will be okay going forward.

“He was tested again 3 weeks later, he has shown no symptoms, he’s conditioned here at practice and he hasn’t shown any effects,” said Goetz.

Dr. Anderson says extensive testing and research are still required to have concrete answers about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the heart, and that will take time.

“We’re only 12 weeks smarter than we were in March,” he said.

So for now, he’s encouraging people to follow social distancing guidelines to minimize the risk of infection.

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