A mild bout of Covid-19 infection is “very unlikely” to cause lasting damage to the structure or function of the heart, according to research.
The study, part funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in journal JACC Cardiovascular Imaging, assessed 149 healthcare workers recruited from Barts Health and Royal Free London NHS Trusts and is believed to be the largest and most detailed study to date into mild Covid-19 infection and its longer-term impact on the heart.
Heart damage and Covid-19
Severe Covid-19 infection has been associated with blood clots, inflammation of the heart and heart damage and the concern was whether the same was true with more mild infection, which is what the majority of those who get Covid-19 experience.
If that had been the case it could have had significant implications for long-term recovery, rehabilitation and return to work, especially in the context of ‘long Covid’ and lingering illness or symptoms.
Up to now there had been little information specifically looking at this group of people and the effects on the heart further down the line after infection.
In the study, the researchers identified participants with mild Covid-19 from the ‘COVIDsortium’, a study in three London hospitals where healthcare workers had undergone weekly samples of blood, saliva and nasal swabs for 16 weeks.
Six months after mild infection they looked at the heart structure and function by analysing heart MRI scans of 74 healthcare workers with prior mild Covid-19 and compared them to the scans of 75 healthy age, sex and ethnicity matched controls who had not previously been infected.
They found no difference in the size or amount of muscle of the left ventricle – the main chamber of the heart responsible for pumping blood around the body – or its ability to pump blood out of the heart.
The amount of inflammation and scarring in the heart, and the elasticity of the aorta – which is important for blood to easily flow out of the heart – remained the same between the two groups.
When the researchers analysed blood samples, they also found no differences in the two markers of heart muscle damage – troponin and NT-proBNP – six months after mild Covid-19 infection.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF and a consultant cardiologist, said: “These findings one year on from the start of the pandemic are welcome reassurance to the hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced Covid-19 with mild or no symptoms.
“There’s still a lot more work to be done, but for now it seems the good news is that mild Covid-19 illness does not appear to be linked to lasting heart damage.”
This study was also funded by Barts Charity and was a collaboration between researchers at UCL, Barts Health NHS Trust, Queen Mary University of London and Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.