HM20 Virtual

COVID-19/heart connection: What hospitalists need to know


The heart-related manifestations of COVID-19 are a serious matter, but no one should make the mistake of thinking of COVID-19 as primarily a cardiac disease, according to Jeffrey C. Trost, MD, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

“One of my take-home messages is this is not a heart illness. This is still an infectious pulmonary illness that most likely causes stress on the heart in both healthy people and those with preexisting heart disease,” he said in offering a preview of his upcoming clinical update at HM20 Virtual, hosted by the Society of Hospital Medicine.

For this reason, in his clinical update talk, titled “COVID-19 and the Heart: What Every Hospitalist Should Know,” he’ll urge hospitalists to be conservative in ordering cardiac biomarker tests such troponin and natriuretic peptide levels. The focus should appropriately be on the subset of COVID-19 patients having the same symptoms suggestive of acute coronary syndrome, heart failure, or new-onset cardiomyopathy that would trigger laboratory testing in non–COVID-19 patients.

“Be more selective. Definitely do not routinely monitor troponin or [N-terminal of the prohormone brain natriuretic peptide] in patients just because they have COVID-19. A lot of patients with COVID-19 have these labs drawn, especially in the emergency department. We see a high signal-to-noise ratio: not infrequently the values are abnormal, and yet we don’t really know what that means,” said Dr. Trost, who is also director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

COVID-19 patients with preexisting heart disease are clearly at increased risk of severe forms of the infectious illness. In his talk, Dr. Trost will review the epidemiology of this association. He’ll also discuss the varied cardiac manifestations of COVID-19, consisting of myocarditis or other forms of new-onset cardiomyopathy, acute coronary syndrome, heart failure, and arrhythmias.

Many questions regarding COVID-19 and the heart remain unanswered for now, such as the mechanism and long-term implications of the phenomenon of ST-elevation acute coronary syndrome with chest pain in the presence of unobstructed coronary arteries, which Dr. Trost and others have encountered. Or the extent to which COVID-19–associated myocarditis is directly virus mediated as opposed to an autoimmune process.

“We’re relying completely on case reports at this point,” according to the cardiologist.

But one major issue has, thankfully, been put to rest on the basis of persuasive evidence which Dr. Trost plans to highlight: Millions of patients on ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers can now rest assured that taking those medications doesn’t place them at increased risk of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus or, if infected, developing severe complications of COVID-19. Earlier in the pandemic that had been a legitimate theoretic concern based upon a plausible mechanism.

“I think we as physicians can now confidently say that we don’t need to stop these medicines in folks,” Dr. Trost said.

COVID-19 and the Heart: What Every Hospitalist Should Know

Live Q&A: Wednesday, Aug. 19, 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET

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