For more than four months, the coronavirus has dominated every aspect of our lives, from finances and education to entertainment and shopping. The majority of the attention on COVID-19 has focused on preventing and treating the infection in order to save lives.
But there’s another serious issue that has only recently become clear: the long-term health effects of COVID-19, even after recovery. For the millions of people who beat coronavirus infection and avoid a death sentence, these complications could become a lasting part of their lives.
Strain on the Heart
Research recently completed in Germany suggests that COVID-19 infections, even those mild enough to avoid hospitalization, can cause long-term heart damage.
Cardiac MRIs of 100 people who had recovered from coronavirus were compared to MRIs from 100 similar people who were never infected by COVID-19. Two-thirds of the coronavirus patients had recovered at home, but two months later they were more likely to experience indications of cardiac complications than those in the control group.
Overall, 78% of COVID-19 patients showed structural changes in their hearts, while 76% had evidence of a biomarker signaling cardiac injury usually seen after a heart attack. A full 60% of patients in the study had signs of inflammation in the heart. Perhaps the most concerning point of this study is the fact that most patients were relatively young and healthy, with no pre-existing health problems.
“The fact that 78% of ‘recovered’ [patients] had evidence of ongoing heart involvement means that the heart is involved in a majority of patients, even if COVID-19 illness does not scream out with the classical heart symptoms, such as anginal chest pain,” explained Valentina Puntmann, who led the MRI study.
Limited Lung Capacity
Unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn’t stop with the heart. It also traumatizes the lungs. The coronavirus is believed to cause Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which causes fluid to build in tiny air sacs of the lungs. This limits the ability to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen.
As a result, many people experience limited lung capacity even after recovering from COVID-19. The more lung tissue damage that occurs, the more scarring that forms, leading to limited elasticity of the lungs and decreased function for a long period of time.
Battling a coronavirus infection also triggers unseen complications like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and neurological problems.
More than 300 studies around the world have discovered a prevalence of neurological abnormalities in COVID-19 patients. From headaches and loss of smell to strokes and seizures, these abnormalities shouldn’t be overlooked. Some researchers theorize that oxygen starvation to the brain is to blame. Others wonder if the virus can actually invade the brain itself.
Only time and additional research will help us learn more. For now, doctors and patients are both advised to approach recovery with caution.