Early research suggests that COVID may damage the heart at the cellular level, leading to permanent problems including irregular heartbeat and heart failure.
The effects of Covid on the heart are well documented, but a new study zooms in on the subtle changes caused by the virus.
Researchers at Columbia University in New York City examined autopsies of heart tissue from people who had Covid, and found that the infection damaged the way cells in the heart regulate levels of calcium, a mineral that helps the organ function. Plays an important role in contracting and pumping blood. throughout the body. In the second part of the study, the same damage was also seen in mice with Kovid.
The findings, presented Monday at the Biophysical Society meeting in San Diego, have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
When a person is infected with Covid, The immune system launches a massive inflammatory response in an attempt to fight off the virus. That inflammation, the new study found, disrupts how calcium is stored in the heart.
Calcium ions — a version of the element that carries a positive charge — are important messengers that control the function of the heart, including how quickly and how strongly the organ contracts. These ions are stored on deck inside cells for when the body needs to use them. They are released through channels in the cellular membrane, which ensure that the right amount of calcium is released.
Dr. Andrew Marks, cardiologist and professor of biophysics at Columbia University, who co-led the study, said that damage caused by inflammation during a Covid infection helps open these channels, allowing more calcium to enter the heart cells. leakage occurs. This influx of calcium, they said, can reduce heart function and even cause fatal arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.
Although inflammation of the heart is a rare but documented side effect of mRNA Covid vaccines, the study only looked at heart tissue from autopsies before the vaccine was available.
“All the changes we saw were due to infection,” Marks said, adding that the new study was small and that the next step was to conduct larger-scale research.
Calcium also plays an important role in the brain
Marks and his team based their findings on something they had seen earlier in the pandemic when they were investigating how Covid affects another organ: the brain.
In a study published in 2021 in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the team found similar cellular damage to calcium ion channels in autopsied brain tissue of people who had been infected with Covid. These changes, Marks noted, had long been observed in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Siddharth Singh, clinical director of the Post-COVID-19 Cardiology Clinic at the Smid Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the latest findings help explain heart and brain problems seen in COVID patients .
“Calcium is an essential mineral for life,” said Singh, who was not involved in the research.
“It can put things together for the heart and the mind.”
Viral infection causing inflammation of the heart is not a new discovery.
“We will see more people presenting with things like myocarditis during the winter, when viral infections tend to increase,” Singh said, referring to inflammation of the lining of the heart.
He added that the damage was not necessarily permanent. “Over time, symptoms such as brain fog and palpitations get better in some patients, so to an extent, this damage appears to be reversible,” he said, adding that patients need to be studied longer. needed so that researchers can understand exactly which factors are involved. Let it happen
Dr Nicolas Hendren, a cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said: “Once this is better understood, we may be able to develop treatments to treat this damage and potentially Can potentially develop a therapy to protect the heart and cardiovascular system from damage caused by Covid.” Hendren also was not involved in the new research.
Can vaccines protect the heart from damage caused by Covid?
Another new study, published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that vaccination may lower major cardiovascular events — such as heart attacks and strokes — linked to Covid.
The study analyzed data from nearly 2 million people in the National COVID Cohort Collaborative Database. About 218,000 had received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccine or the single dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. The researchers found that even partial vaccination was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events for at least six months.
More research is needed to confirm whether Covid vaccinations reduce the risk of these cardiovascular events, but the new study begins to broaden understanding of the unknown long-term effects that vaccines may have on the heart. Can
“There’s a lot of messaging about the efficacy of vaccines,” said study co-author Joy Jiang, MD/Ph.D. candidate at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “It moves the narrative towards encouraging people to get vaccinated because of this associated benefit.”
follow nbc health But Twitter And Facebook,