Study shows abnormal findings on cardiac MRIs in recovered COVID-19 patients

A new study shows almost 80% of people who had recovered from COVID-19 had abnormal findings on their MRIs, even if they only had mild symptoms, were young and had no pre-existing conditions.

We talked to a doctor from UT Health/Memorial Hermann about it.

"It is alarming! In this study, they looked at 100 (random) people who had recently recovered from a COVID infection. They checked their heart with a sophisticated machine and MRI, and they saw problems in 78 out of 100 of these people. They had some form of cardiac involvement. They basically saw some invasion of the virus in the cardiac muscle. Now I happen to know that the majority of those people are young people, and actually had no real cardiac symptoms, and most of them were not even hospitalized, so we're talking about these very mild asymptomatic infections," explains Dr. Konstantinos Charitakis.

He's Assistant Professor of Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and with the Interventional Cardiology, Heart and Vascular Institute, at Memorial Hermann.

Here's a look at the findings, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This is 70 days after the patients had recovered from COVID-19:

• Nearly 20% had atypical chest pain or palpitations, and over one-third said they had ongoing shortness of breath.

• 78% had abnormal MRI findings, regardless of pre-existing conditions, COVID-19 severity, or cardiac symptoms.

• Roughly 60% showed some degree of cardiac inflammation

We asked Dr. Charitakis if these patients could tell they were having problems. He says some only had palpitations, but others suffered heart attacks.

"We do not know what's going to happen in the long-term. What we see now is that these people three months after the infection, they still have some inflammation in their myocardium, and we need to see what's going to happen to them in the long-term. That's the alarming part, that daily we see that this virus unfortunately does not spare a single organ and does not spare the heart. The more we find out about this new virus, the more we're going to be able to guide our patients on what's the right follow up and what they're supposed to do. This is a study of just 100 people that followed them for three months after their infection. Nobody knows what's going to happen in one year, if they will develop some form of cardiomyopathy, which is a weakened heart. All we know for now is that there is definitely a chance that it's going to be a long-term involvement from a cardiac standpoint for these patients, no matter how young they are, no matter how serious their infection was," explains Dr. Charitakis.

So what can you do to monitor your heart, if you happen to be diagnosed with COVID-19?

"It's not a bad idea to see their primary care, have an EKG to begin with, then these people who recover from the virus may need an MRI, or maybe an ultrasound of their heart in the future, to see if their heart is going to be weaker than what it was before," encourages Dr. Charitakis.

For more information on the study, click here.  Visit the UTHealth website here.