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New study looks at the hearts of athletes who've had COVID-19

The findings could help the general public too
College Football Generic
Posted at 2:55 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 14:55:35-04

There’s still a lot to learn about COVID-19, but doctors and researchers have figured out a new piece of the puzzle in a recent study.

“There was a lot of early discussion about cardiac involvement with the new coronavirus,” said Dr. Matthew Martinez, Director of Sports Cardiology at the Atlantic Health System at Morristown Medical Center.

The study looked at the impacts of COVID-19 on professional athletes’ hearts.

“789 athletes over a time period that ended in October 2020, had COVID diagnosis by either PCR testing or antibody testing. And then we looked at what happened to that group,” Dr. Martinez said.

After having COVID-19, each athlete went through testing that included an ultrasound of the heart, blood test, and an EKG.

“We never really had a screening protocol for myocarditis, therefore a study such as this looking at outcomes of screening for myocarditis, particularly related to COVID-19 and only COVID-19 in this case, had not been done,“ said Dr. Jonathan Kim, Chief of Sports Cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine. “The number one cause of myocarditis is a viral infection.”

Myocarditis is an infection that leads to inflammation of the heart muscle. It’s a risk factor for sudden death, Dr. Martinez explained.

Dr. Martinez and Dr. Kim are both cardiologists that worked on the study.

“Findings of myocarditis was extremely rare, five out of 789, so 0.6%,” Dr. Kim said.

“Symptoms are important. All that were without symptoms or mild symptoms, we didn't find any abnormalities in them,” Dr. Martinez said.

Unrelated to the study, some players came out on special media to talk about their diagnosis after having COVID-19.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez said he was diagnosed with myocarditis last year. And professional lacrosse player Jules Heningbburg wasn’t able to play last season, posting on Twitter: “I recently found out that I am at high risk for cardiac arrest under high intensity training."

So what does this mean for someone who isn’t a professional athlete?

“It is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but I do think there are several important takeaways,” Dr. Kim said. “Those who develop some of the symptoms I talked about, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or conditioning is not coming back, we would recommend you do seek assistance from your physician.”

Dr. Martinez said it’s important to take things slow.

“If you're somebody who used to run half marathons on a regular basis -- 8,10 miles in a week -- it may be that you're going to start for the first couple of days at much lower than that. A half mile to a mile,” he said.

He said hydration, sleep and nutrition are important. And don't be too concerned if you have a faster heart rate.

“You're going to have faster heart rates than you did before. We see that a lot in the recovery period. Some of that is just the resolution of the virus,” Dr. Martinez said.

“The rest and recovery, that’s the key message,” Dr. Kim said.

Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering