Local cardiologist weighs in on COVID-19 and potential heart issues in athletes


Some of the symptoms people should look out for mentioned by both doctors are shortness of breath, chest discomfort and exercise fatigue

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – A topic of discussion surrounding the coronavirus has been sports. Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine gave student-athletes the green light to play, but another issue might be making parents and athletes weary of COVID-19 exposure when it comes to their heart health.

“One of the things we continue to study and look at with COVID-19 is its predilection for potentially affecting the heart with infection,” Dr. James Borchers said during Tuesday’s briefing with Gov. DeWine. “It’s one of the issues that has been discussed quite a bit. It’s one of the issues that we’re learning quite a bit about, and certainly, we want to be vigilant for.”

Doctors and researchers are concerned about myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart, and its potential to lead to cardiac arrest in athletes.

Dr. David Hoffman, an interventional cardiologist for Mercy Health, said the American Medical Association did a study and found that MRIs revealed that 78% of patients with COVID-19 had some sort of cardiac involvement, in addition to their lungs.

“Do I think everybody needs an MRI? No,” Dr. Hoffman said. “But I think that certain selected patients might benefit, and they can do blood tests, and they can even do non-invasion echocardiography. It’s not a simple answer, but they should seek out their own physician, meet with them in consultation before they get into the competitive sport.”

Some of the symptoms people should look out for mentioned by both doctors are shortness of breath, chest discomfort and exercise fatigue.

“A middle-aged runner who may be used to being able to run an 8-minute mile that’s now only able to run 12-or 13-minute miles, these are the things that might alert our healthcare to looking at something more specific,” Dr. Borchers said.

Locally, Dr. Hoffman has seen recovered patients with heart issues, and a few have had some inflammation.

“Some of them were asymptomatic, and some of them became quite ill,” he said. “It depended on their personal response to the virus. Everybody’s different, everybody has different genetics, and we’re not all the same. Some of us are more resistant to the virus’ bad effects, and some, who probably have the same genetic make-up as the RNA in the virus within their bodies, are highly susceptible to the poor outcomes.”

Dr. Hoffman suggests that if a school is aware that a student-athlete is having a problem, they should contact his or her physician.

“The personal physician is aware of all the cardiologists in the area, and they would pick an appropriate person or persons,” he said. “They can address the issue, and we have the equipment to do it as we need to clinically do it.”

Dr. Hoffman referenced an editorial done by Dr. Clyde Yancy, the chief of cardiology at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, saying that more research and follow-ups with recovered patients need to be done to see if any have long-term outcomes of heart failure.

“They think not, right now, and some of the new medicines that are in research right now to fight the virus, which are anti-inflammatory and anti-RNA inhibitors, these may help stop the process early on so that the inflammatory process is stopped within 3, 4, 5 days of the patient demonstrating any abnormalities on their CAT scan of their chest or their lungs,” he said.

Dr. Hoffman said while the disease has been around for several months, they still don’t know the long-term effects.

“The most important goal here is one, prevention, to do the things that we’re told to do – wearing our masks, keeping distance and also rapid research into not just vaccines, but more importantly, to be able to attack and reverse the effects of the virus early on in the course of the disease so that it doesn’t develop where the patients wind up in the intensive care unit,” he said.

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