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COVID-19 is known as a respiratory infection but there’s emerging evidence linking it to heart damage. Cardiologists are seeing patients with signs of inflammation and scar formation in their hearts even after recovery from COVID-19, experts say.

For that reason, anyone who plans on participating in vigorous exercise and was sick with COVID-19 for three or more days should get a cardiac screening before working out or participating in their sport, said Dr. Steven Erickson, medical director for Banner University Sports Medicine and Concussion Specialists in Phoenix.

“You don’t get sick with COVID-19 and stay home from school for a week and the next day go back and play two hours of soccer,” Erickson said.

“You’re taking a risk, and that is not what the medical community is recommending right now.” 

Having assessed seriously ill COVID-19 inpatients since March, Arizona cardiologist Dr. Dawn Pedrotty said she has seen evidence linking the disease with cardiac damage.

What’s not clear is what that damage will mean for patients in the long term, but researchers and physicians are closely following the link, she said.

“There is a connection to heart disease. It’s not just a respiratory disease,” Pedrotty said. “It’s an important public health message that it does affect more than your lungs.”

Screening criteria include illness for 3 days

People who have been sick with COVID-19 for three days or more should get a blood test and an EKG, also known as an electrocardiogram, before returning to strenuous exercise, Erickson said.

An electrocardiogram measures the heart’s electrical signal. The blood test Erickson recommends measures troponin proteins, which are normally found in the heart muscle but released into the bloodstream when the heart is injured.

All athletes should be symptom-free for at least 14 days before resuming sports and should resume activities gradually while being monitored for cardiac symptoms, he added.

If patients are competitive athletes who will be training or participating in an upcoming sports season and had COVID-19, Erickson recommends they seek an evaluation with their primary care physician or sports medicine specialist to see if they need additional evaluation by a cardiologist. Read More

By Ian Dei

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