Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

How does COVID-19 affect the heart?

2/4/2021 by Allison Ducharme-Smith, M.D.


We are over one year into the pandemic that has been one of the largest global health emergencies of our time. This time last year, we were seeing cases of COVID-19 build in countries afar without fully anticipating or realizing that it would soon be here in Rochester, Minnesota. COVID-19 was initially felt to be a respiratory virus. But over the course of this past year, we have learned of the far-reaching effects of this virus on the entire body, particularly, the heart.

A common question I hear is how does COVID-19 affect the heart?

There are several ways that COVID-19 can affect the heart ― both directly by the damage from the virus itself and indirectly by the inflammation from our immune system trying to attack and kill the virus. COVID-19 also can worsen preexisting heart conditions by increasing strain on the heart during an infection. This can lead to myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart; heart arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms; and rarely heart failure, where the heart does not pump as well.

We know that almost 25% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have heart damage, but we are starting to understand that even patients who are not hospitalized are at risk for these complications. And it is not just in patients with preexisting heart conditions. Even people without prior heart issues have shown signs of heart damage.

While many patients with COVID-19 recover, we are still trying to understand what the lasting effects on the heart are. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for patients to experience prolonged fatigue and deconditioning as their body heals from COVID-19.

Note these signs of COVID-19 that indicate when you should seek further care:

  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Worsening shortness of breath.
  • Unexplained swelling.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask and continue practicing hand hygiene.
  • Maintain social distance.
  • Avoid large gatherings.
  • Continue to take your medications as prescribed if you have underlying heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
  • Maintain an exercise regimen and heart-healthy diet.
Allison Ducharme-Smith, M.D., is an internal medicine physician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine, and she practices at Mayo Family Clinic Northeast in Rochester. Her interests include preventive medicine, women's health, chronic disease management and medical education.