Doctors discovering long-term effects of COVID-19 months after recovery

X-Ray Image Of Human Healthy Chest MRI

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Nearly 4.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the coronavirus to date. At first, doctors were hopeful the virus would cause only short-term damage and a full recovery was possible. 

But new research suggests otherwise and evidence is mounting that COVID-19 may result in permanent consequences.

In a study published Tuesday online in the Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology, doctors followed 100 German patients who recovered from the coronavirus between April and June 2020. The goal was to determine if there were any lingering effects, specifically to the heart. 

Doctors took blood samples and all patients underwent cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging (CMR). The results of the tests were compared to 50 healthy people who acted as the control group. 

Study findings showed significantly higher high-sensitivity troponin T levels — a blood marker used to diagnose heart damage — in 71 of the previously diagnosed patients compared to the control group. Results of the CMR tests showed a significant decline in the heart’s ability to pump blood in 78 patients. In addition, patients showed left ventricle enlargement which is a predictor of heart attacks.

There were also elevated levels of four other biomarkers — myocardial native T1 in 73% of people and myocardial native T2 in 60%. Thirty-two percent of patients presented myocardial late enhancement while 22% showed pericardial enhancement. All four of these blood markers are indicative of swelling, inflammation and heart tissue scarring.

All patients had no history of heart disease prior to their coronavirus infection which, authors write, indicate the need for ongoing research of the long-term cardiovascular consequences associated with COVID-19.

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral science researcher. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over five years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets.