Long Covid patients are twice as likely to experience life-threatening heart problems, a major study has found.
The condition, which refers to Covid symptoms that persist long after the initial illness has cleared, affects about two million people in the UK, often leaving them suffering breathlessness, fatigue and muscle aches.
There are about 600,000 people in the UK who have had long Covid symptoms for more than two years, according to Government figures.
Last year, The Mail on Sunday was the first British newspaper to report suspicions that the symptoms may be due to hidden blood clots in heart arteries.
Now, a study due to be presented at the prestigious American College of Cardiology, which reviewed the health records of 5.8 million people, has shown a clear link between the two conditions.
Long Covid patients are twice as likely to experience life-threatening heart problems, a major study has found (stock photo)
The research found that patients with long Covid were significantly more likely to experience chest pain and palpitations than those who did not have the condition. They were also more likely to show signs of heart disease in scans and diagnostic tests.
Researchers involved in the study are now calling on doctors to check for heart problems in everyone with long Covid.
‘Clinicians should be aware that cardiac complications [of long Covid] can exist and should investigate further if a patient complains of these symptoms, even a long time after contracting the virus,’ said Joanna Lee, a medical student at David Tvildiani Medical University in Tbilisi, Georgia, who led the study.
She added: ‘For patients, if you had Covid-19 and you continue to have difficulty breathing or any kind of new heart problems, you should go to the doctor and get it checked out.’
While millions of people have been living with long Covid since the start of the pandemic, the exact cause of the condition is still unknown. This also means that there is no cure.
Experts have proposed a number of possible explanations, including the idea that the virus continues to live on in the body long after the initial infection.
However, when we investigated the worrying reports of long Covid patients suffering heart problems, several doctors argued the virus was causing inflammation and clots within blood vessels, making it harder for oxygen to reach the heart.
In particular, cardiologists pointed to a heart condition called microvascular angina as a possible cause of long Covid symptoms. The disease, which is notoriously difficult to diagnose, occurs when the smallest vessels supplying the heart become blocked. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain.
Researchers involved in the new study, which was carried out by a group called the Global Remote Research Scholars Program, also pointed to the inflammation triggered by the Covid virus as a cause of the heart problems. The study notes that diagnostic tests show that long Covid sufferers have persistently high levels of inflammation in the body.
Researchers analysed data from across 11 studies that included data on cardiovascular outcomes among people with long Covid, as well as a control group of people who had never had the virus. Only heart conditions that occurred following infection were counted, in order not to count long Covid patients who were already suffering from a heart problem.
There are about 600,000 people in the UK who have had long Covid symptoms for more than two years, according to Government figures (stock photo)
Of the more than 5.8 million participants included across the studies, almost 450,000 experienced new cardiac complications. Among those with long Covid, the rate of heart problems was more than double that of those without.
Some experts argue that it is likely that many of these people would have gone on to develop a heart condition later in life, but that Covid hastened the onset of symptoms.
‘Viruses always have an inflammatory effect on the human body, but Covid appears to have some direct impact on the heart,’ said Dr Malcolm Finlay, a consultant cardiologist at Barts Heart Centre in London.
‘It’s possible that many of these people would have developed a heart problem in five years’ time, but after getting Covid that issue came in just two years due to the extra stress.
‘It’s important that we continue to follow these heart problems in the coming years, to see what the long-term effect of long Covid is.’
The good news is that microvascular angina can be treated with medication, helping to alleviate symptoms. Other forms of heart disease can be treated too, experts add.