Heart inflammation persists long after coronavirus infection

Cardiologists have recently discovered ongoing heart issues in people who had mild COVID-19...
11 August 2020

Interview with 

Valentina Puntmann, University of Frankfurt


An illustration of a human heart.


Hints are starting to emerge about the damage or complications that are going on in multiple different organs in long covid patients. And a group of medical scientists in Germany have recently discovered ongoing heart issues in a significant proportion of people that only ever had this ‘mild’ COVID-19. Cardiologist Valentina Puntmann explained to Phil Sansom…

Valentina - We investigated patients that have recently recovered from the COVID-19 illness. We had a very, very deep look at their hearts. And in these patients, we found that many, many of them, even if they didn't really have a rough course of the original illness, they still have persistent, ongoing cardiac inflammation; a little bit like a flu of the heart.

Phil - How many of them had this kind of inflammation?

Valentina - We scanned a total of 100 patients. 78 of those have had some findings in the heart. Of these, 60 had very active inflammation within the heart muscle - something that we call myocarditis - as well as inflammation of the lining of the heart, pericarditis.

Phil - How long is this after they were originally sick?

Valentina - The average time from their original positive task was 71 days.

Phil - Wow! That's a long time since they had this positive test. What's going on?

Valentina - This is the question that obviously I can only speculate on; and it is not due to an ongoing infection of the heart muscle, so it is not that the virus remains within the heart cells. The body itself is understanding the inflammation of the heart as something that it has to fight against or tries to control. But this is obviously, at this present point, hypothesis.

Phil - Do you know whether this kind of heart inflammation might link to any specific symptoms that people are feeling, months after they were supposed to have gotten better from COVID?

Valentina - That is very difficult to say because heart inflammation does not present with specific symptoms. Being not fit, especially young patients, this is one of those symptoms that definitely can make us aware of it. However, inflammation takes a long time to present itself with what we call textbook symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath, the swelling of the legs.

Phil - But in general then this might be kind of a hint as to why these people are still unwell?

Valentina - Absolutely. This is definitely one of the things that we should look for very early and very fast if possible. In cardiac inflammation trying to be very sporty very fast is probably not the right thing, and I think if any message can be given at the present point is that we just need to give the heart as well as the rest of the body time to heal.


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