COVID-19 was full of surprises early on, causing mild problems in the short term for some people and serious complications for others. Long term, it may be just as capricious. A massive study shows a long-term, substantial rise in the risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, after a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
A concerning report published this year in Nature Medicine suggests even a mild case of COVID can increase the long-term risks of serious cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, heart attack and heart failure. The study highlights our limited understanding of the full consequences of COVID infection and the long-term impact of the COVID pandemic.
Even a mild case of COVID-19 can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems for at least a year after diagnosis, a new study shows. Researchers found that rates of many conditions, such as heart failure and stroke, were substantially higher in people who had recovered from COVID-19 than in similar people who hadn’t had the disease.
A new study shows heart attack increase has been most prominent in young adults, especially those ages 25-44. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, heart attacks were the leading cause of death worldwide but were steadily on the decline. However, the new study reveals that heart attack death rates took a sharp turn and increased for all age groups during the pandemic. The study was recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Virology.
As per SciTechDaily, spikes in heart attack deaths have closely tracked with surges of SARS-CoV-2 infections. This was true even during the presumed less-severe Omicron phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the data showed the increase was most significant among people ages 25-44. Individuals in this age range are not usually considered at high risk for heart attacks.
Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System, the Cedars-Sinai researchers identified 1,522,699 deaths from heart attacks—medically called acute myocardial infarctions—between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2022. Investigators then compared age-related mortality rates between pre-pandemic and pandemic periods, as well as demographic groups and regions. Key findings from the study include:
- In the year before the pandemic, there were 143,787 heart attack deaths; within the first year of the pandemic, this number had increased by 14% to 164,096.
- The excess in acute myocardial infarction-associated mortality has persisted throughout the pandemic, even during the most recent period marked by a surge of the presumed less-virulent Omicron variant.
- Researchers found that although acute myocardial infarction deaths during the pandemic increased across all age groups, the relative risk was most significant for the youngest group, ages 25 to 44.
- By the second year of the pandemic, the “observed” compared to “predicted” rates of heart attack death had increased by 29.9% for adults ages 25-44, by 19.6% for adults ages 45-64, and by 13.7% for adults aged 65 and older.
COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of infection and severe illness. And while it’s not yet clear whether vaccination influences long-term symptoms in people who get breakthrough infections, Dr José Biller, director of the COVID-19 neurology clinic at Loyola Medicine in Maywood, Illinois said, “Prevention is the key.”
Reasons for the spike in heart-related conditions could also be related to psychological and social challenges associated with the pandemic, including job loss and other financial pressures that can cause acute or chronic stress leading to cardiac disease.
The research team members say they have long known that infections such as the flu can increase the risk for heart disease and heart attack, but the sharp rise in heart attack deaths is like nothing seen before.