*The following is excerpted from an online article posted by HealthDay.
A heart condition, myocarditis, has been found in a number of U.S. college athletes who have had COVID-19, a new study finds.
Myocarditis has also been linked in some young people to the COVID vaccine. But the odds are far greater that this inflammation of the heart muscle will occur in those who get COVID infection itself, experts said.
“We’re still learning about how the virus attacks the heart,” said lead researcher Dr. Jean Jeudy, a professor of radiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Myocarditis is part of the body’s reaction to fighting the infection, but it’s also in response to the virus trying to attack the heart.”
Myocarditis can affect the heart’s rhythm and ability to pump. It can also cause lasting scarring of the heart muscle, Jeudy’s team noted.
The risk for myocarditis among people with COVID-19 is 16 times higher than among those without the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jeudy and his colleagues said that myocarditis has been linked to up to 20% of sudden deaths in young athletes.
For this study, Jeudy’s team took advantage of the Big Ten Athletic Conference’s ability to get data on the frequency of myocarditis in student-athletes recovering from COVID-19.
The conference required all athletes who had COVID to get a series of heart tests before returning to play. Tests included cardiac MRIs, echocardiograms, ECGs, and blood tests.
Jeudy reviewed the results of nearly 1,600 cardiac MRIs from 13 participating universities. Thirty-seven of these athletes (2.3%) had myocarditis related to COVID-19. What was surprising, however, was that few had symptoms.
Twenty of these patients with COVID-19 myocarditis (54%) had no cardiac symptoms or heart abnormalities seen on other tests. Only MRIs found the problem.
MRIs are expensive, and most patients hospitalized for COVID-19 don’t get them, so it’s likely that many cases of myocarditis go undiagnosed, he said.
When can athletes resume play?
“At the very least, this athlete is going to be out for six months, with evaluation, making sure that they have a gradual return to play,” Jeudy said. “It’s largely connected with symptoms. If there are signs of decreased function or underlying arrhythmia, that would be a concern for that particular athlete.”
The findings were released at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.