There is still much to be learned about COVID-19, including potential side effects. One of those is myocarditis—a heart condition that we do know has been triggered by earlier strains of coronavirus. Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez developed myocarditis after a bout with COVID-19 that ended his season and left him feeling “100 years old,” he told USA Today.
Myocarditis is classified as a rare disease according to the Myocarditis Foundation, even though it affects thousands of adults and children in the U.S. and worldwide every year. While anyone can develop myocarditis, athletes may be especially susceptible. Here’s what to know about COVID-19 and myocarditis.
Myocarditis is an inflammatory heart disease.
While cancer, bacterial infections and other contagious diseases can cause myocarditis, the leading causes are viral infections such as COVID-19.
“Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle,” says Bruce Bowers, MD, a cardiologist at Medical City Heart Hospital in Dallas. “It can be caused by the impact of the virus on the heart muscle cells and also by the immune system’s response to try to combat the virus—all of which creates a great deal of inflammation.”
Inflammation can cause the heart to become enlarged, weakened and scarred.
“When you start losing heart muscle cells, the heart doesn’t work nearly as well as it should,” Dr. Bowers says.
Myocarditis signs and symptoms.
According to the Myocarditis Foundation, diagnosing and treating myocarditis can be challenging because of a lack of specific symptoms—and in many cases, no symptoms at all. Dr. Bowers says someone with a lot of damage to their heart may experience symptoms because their heart muscle function has deteriorated—making it harder for their heart to pump blood and oxygen throughout their body.
Myocarditis symptoms may include:
- Fatigue, decreased ability to exercise and perform daily activities
- Shortness of breath, especially after exercise or when lying down
- Chest pain or pressure
- Swelling in the extremities
- Sudden loss of consciousness
“Certainly, if you have these symptoms or you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and you have these symptoms, that’s something that definitely has to be evaluated,” says Dr. Bowers.
Myocarditis testing is simple.
“When you start losing heart muscle cells, we can test for that in the blood,” Dr. Bowers says. “We can see that there’s damage to heart muscle cells just from a simple blood test.”
The Myocarditis Foundation says there are no medical treatments or lifestyle changes that are known to prevent viral myocarditis. Although the risk of recurrence is rare (10 to 15%), it can happen and in some cases may lead to a chronically enlarged heart (known as dilated cardiomyopathy).
Although you can’t prevent myocarditis, you can protect your family from viral infections—which is particularly important in the event of an overlap of COVID-19 and flu season—by following these precautions:
- Get a flu shot every year—CareNow Urgent Care clinics have them for the whole family
- Follow the 3Ws:
- Wear a mask in public
- Watch your distance by staying 6 feet away from others
- Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds
- Make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating right, exercising and prioritizing your mental health
Myocarditis and athletes: what parents should look for.
Dr. Bowers is the father of a student athlete, so he’s acutely aware of the concerns felt by many other parents in the same situation.
“I have a senior in high school who plays football,” Dr. Bowers says. “And yes, we have talked about this. If we start to see a diminishment in his ability to play and to do the things that he’s accustomed to doing on the field, at practice or in the weight room, that’s going to be an awareness for us. That’s probably going to spur us on to go and get him evaluated.”
Dr. Bowers says student athletes who have recovered from their COVID-19 symptoms but seem to have lingering effects from their illness should definitely see a physician. Symptoms to look for include:
- Inability to exercise—they can’t exercise the way they normally do or they’re slowing down
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
If you think your student athlete (or anyone in your family) has symptoms of COVID-19 or flu, CareNow offers fast, convenient testing. They also offer sports physicals to keep your little superstars playing on.
At Medical City Healthcare, we’re dedicated to the care and improvement of human life. So, we hope you’ll Take Care!
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