COVID Effects On The Athlete’s Heart – Sports Medicine Weekly | Dr. Brian J. Cole
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Practice Policy Update regarding COVID-19

Published on: 29-Apr-2021

Athletes who test positive for COVID-19 have a high rate of return to sports, however, a small percentage may have damage to heart muscle tissue.

In a recent collaboration between 6 U.S. professional sports leagues, it’s been shown that the rate of heart muscle damage in those athletes who tested positive was 0.6%.

Heart abnormalities in younger athletes (collegiate, high school) is not well known, and return to sport after COVID-19 infection requires careful consultation with the athlete’s physician

Since early in the pandemic, COVID-19 has been associated with heart problems, including reduced ability to pump blood and abnormal heart rhythms. But it’s been an open question whether these problems are caused by the virus infecting the heart, or an inflammatory response to viral infection elsewhere in the body. Such details have implications for understanding how best to treat coronavirus infections that affect the heart.

In a recent scientific publication, a collaboration between medical and athletic training staffs from 6 major U.S. professional sports leagues showed that the rate of return to sports participation after COVID-19 infection is very high.

The rate of return to sports for collegiate and high school athletes is also believed to be high, with very low risk for heart damage. However, the issue has not been well studied in the younger age groups, and caution is still needed.

Coronavirus Appears To Cause Direct Damage To Heart Muscle Cells

new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis provides evidence that COVID-19 patients’ heart damage is caused by the virus invading and replicating inside heart muscle cells, leading to cell death and interfering with heart muscle contraction. The researchers used stem cells to engineer heart tissue that models the human infection and could help in studying the disease and developing possible therapies.

In the Wash U study, the authors note that some collegiate athletes who had been successfully cleared for return to sport later developed heart symptoms. Further analysis revealed heart muscle scarring, but due to the difficulties in studying heart muscle tissue in a living person, we can only speculate that the cause was the COVID virus.

NFL, MLB, MLS, NBA, NHL, WNBA Medical And Athletic Training Staffs Team Up For Study On COVID Effects In The Athlete’s Heart

In a superb example of collaboration amongst club and league medical staff, and the respective players’ associations, it’s been shown that the rate of heart muscle damage in athletes infected with COVID was 0.6% and the return to successful sport participation after COVID is very high.

Their findings were published recently in JAMA Cardiology, and showed that during the yearlong study period, 789 athletes were diagnosed with COVID-19 infection. Of those 789 athletes, 5 were found to have abnormalities to heart muscle on cardiac screening tests.

This study gives us some positive news, which will hopefully also apply to athletes in other age groups and skill levels. For now, the best thing is still to take all recommended steps to protect yourself from getting the virus. If you do get the virus, be sure to consult your physician about appropriate return to play guidance.

By: Dev Mishra, M.D., Founder and President, Sideline Sports Doc , Medical Director, Apeiron Life Fellow, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; Institute For Joint Restoration, Menlo Park, CA

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