COVID-19 can cause permanent heart damage, local cardiologist says

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The leading cause of death in the United States is also linked to 40% of COVID-19 deaths, according to the American Heart Association.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows heart disease is responsible for one in every four deaths each year.

Dr. Jonathan Lanham, a cardiologist at SouthCoast Health, says COVID can cause a number of effects on the body including heart attack, strokes and blood clots – all of which can lead to worsening or new heart conditions. 

“When our body is asking for more oxygen and when we’re sick with COVID, oftentimes we can’t deliver that to the heart and that can cause direct injury,” Lanham said.

COVID can often cause permanent heart damage, but in some cases it can be reversible, Lanham said. People with pre-existing heart conditions face a greater risk of experiencing complications, but those without can also suffer from heart damage.

“Chest pain and breathing difficulties we’re seeing quite a bit and really as much as a fourth or a third of patients admitted with COVID-19 have some evidence of heart damage,” Lanham said.

Some of the groups at a higher risk of developing heart conditions include people who are overweight, elderly or have high blood pressure. As COVID continues to spread, Dr. Lanham says there’s multiple things you can do to keep your heart healthy.

“COVID-19 will likely be around for a long time so we need to get on these things now,” he said. “Lowering cholesterol, losing weight, getting active, stopping smoking – anything we can do to improve our heart health will likely improve our outcomes with COVID-19.”

Lanham said people should start getting screened regularly for high cholesterol and high blood pressure starting at age 20. During this Cholesterol Education Awareness Month, Lanham said taking care of your heart is more important now than ever.

“We’ve seen very sick people even here locally with issues from COVID-19 and the heart. We’re seeing it every day,” he said. “COVID is really bad right now around here and certainly I want to encourage everyone to get vaccinated, continue to wear a mask and we’ll get through this together.”

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