The Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Monday announced it will launch a specialized cardiac clinic to treat heart damage in COVID-19 survivors.
The move comes after multiple studies showing that even asymptomatic cases of the virus in young people can cause conditions associated with heart failure.
“This first-of-its-kind program created uniquely for COVID-19 survivors will benefit patients and aid ongoing research,” said Dr. Eduardo Marban, executive director of the Smidt Heart Institute. “As an institute, we are committed to understanding how COVID-19 is impacting all survivors.”
In addition to the post-COVID-19 heart program, Cedars-Sinai is set to open other specialized clinics to treat and study other long-term health problems associated with the coronavirus, including lung damage and cognitive issues. Cedars-Sinai investigators have initiated more than 80 studies and clinical trials to better understand the impacts and risks of the disease.
Although not all COVID-19 survivors will experience heart complications or damage, there are high-risk groups as well as telltale symptoms that warrant a call or visit to a doctor or medical clinic.
High-risk populations include those with preexisting conditions, such as patients who had heart failure or were diagnosed with hypertension before contracting the virus, and survivors who plan to resume vigorous athletics. Symptoms indicating a potential problem include persistent shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations and an inability to move as easily or as much as before.
“If you are otherwise healthy after your coronavirus diagnosis and recovery, the best thing to do is pay careful attention to your body and monitor for new symptoms or ailments,” Marban said. “If any of these symptoms appear, then it is wise to schedule time with a care provider.”
When it comes to the “why” of COVID-19 affecting the heart, Dr. Siddharth Singh, director of the new heart clinic, says there is still a lot to learn about the virus.
“As of now, we understand the virus can cause an inflammatory response and clotting in small and large blood vessels, ultimately affecting both the heart and cardiovascular system,” Singh said. “However, this immune response tends to occur only in the severely ill.”
Until physicians know more about what makes the virus so debilitating for some patients while others don’t experience any symptoms, Singh says the most effective weapon remains wearing masks, as well as social distancing and frequently washing hands.
Marban said that what is known about the effects of the virus on the heart raises concerns. Three recent scientific studies conducted outside of Cedars-Sinai point to patients, including athletes and others who didn’t experience symptoms, having detectable issues with their hearts after surviving the virus.
While these patients were not studied prior to contracting COVID-19, so the issues might not be related, the frequency of abnormal findings seems much greater than it is in the general population, according to Marban.
The studies, published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, suggest that even asymptomatic cases in young people can cause inflammation and increased fibrosis in the heart — both of which are associated with heart failure and sudden death.
“These studies give us reason to believe the number of COVID-19 survivors who end up with long-lasting heart issues is greater than we ever imagined,” Marban said. “As of today, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The more we can study the disease and its lingering effects, the better we will understand its lasting impact on our health.”
Anyone experiencing these symptoms may call the Smidt Heart Institute at 310-423-2726 to request an appointment at the new cardiac COVID-19 clinic.