From the Journals

Heart damage even after COVID-19 ‘recovery’ evokes specter of later heart failure


COVID-19 cohort vs. matched control subjects

The CMR study from Dr. Püntmann and colleagues prospectively entered 100 patients recently recovered from an acute bout of COVID-19, either at home or at a hospital, who were followed in a registry based at University Hospital Frankfurt. Their median age was 49 years; 47% were female. They were compared with 50 age- and sex-matched control patients and 50 apparently healthy volunteers matched for risk factors, the group noted.

On the same day as the CMR assessment, the recently recovered patients, compared with the healthy control subjects and risk-factor matched control subjects, respectively, showed (P ≤ .001 in each case):

  • A reduced left ventricular (LV) ejection fraction: 56% vs. 60% and 61%.
  • A higher LV end-diastolic volume index: 86 mL/m2 vs. 80 mL/m2 and 75 mL/m2.
  • A greater LV mass index: 51 g/m2 vs. 47 g/m2 and 53 g/m2.
  • A higher hs-TnT level: 5.6 pg/mL vs. 3.2 pg/mL and 3.9 pg/mL.
  • A greater prevalence of hs-TnT levels 3 pg/mL or more: 71% vs. 11% and 31%.

At CMR, 78% of the recovered COVID-19 patients showed abnormalities that included raised myocardial native T1 and T2 mapping, which is suggestive of fibrosis and edema from inflammation, compared with the two control groups (P < .001 for all differences), “independent of preexisting conditions, severity and overall course of the acute illness, and the time from the original diagnosis,” the group wrote. Native T1 and T2 mapping correlated significantly with hs-TnT.

“We now have the diagnostic means to detect cardiac inflammation early, and we need make every effort to apply them in every day practice,”Dr. Püntmann said in the interview.

“Using cardiac MRI will allow us to raise our game against COVID-19 and proactively develop efficient cardioprotective treatments,” she said. “Until we have effective means of protecting from the infection, that is vaccination, we must act swiftly and within the means at hand.”

The analysis evokes several other ways patients with COVID-19 might be screened for significant myocardial involvement.

“Strategies could include checking troponins, not only at admission but maybe at discharge and perhaps even those individuals who are at home and are not necessarily requiring care,” Dr. Bozkurt said.

“Biomarker profiling and screening for ongoing inflammation probably are going to be important components of COVID-19, especially for those with subclinical risk and disease.”

Dr. Westermann proposed that troponin elevations at discharge “might be a good starting point” for selecting COVID-19 patients for functional testing or imaging to screen for cardiac sequelae. Performing such tests routinely now “would be overwhelming given the massive increase in patients we still see today.”

Dr. Püntmann had no disclosures; statements of potential conflict for the other authors are in the report. Dr. Bozkurt has previously disclosed receiving consultant fees or honoraria from Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Lantheus Medical Imaging, and Respicardia; serving on a data safety monitoring board for LivaNova USA ; and having unspecified relationships with Abbott Laboratories. Dr. Lindner had no disclosures; Dr. Westermann reported receiving personal fees from AstraZeneca, Bayer, Novartis, and Medtronic. Dr. Yancy is a deputy editor and Dr. Fonarow a section editor for JAMA Cardiology. Dr. Yancy had no other disclosures. Dr. Fonarow reported receiving personal fees from Abbott Laboratories, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, CHF Solutions, Edwards Lifesciences, Janssen, Medtronic, Merck, and Novartis.

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