Sept. 11 (UPI) -- Up to 15% of college athletes experience heart inflammation after battling COVID-19, a study published Friday by JAMA Cardiology found. The unpublished results have been reported by sports media outlets for weeks.
In the analysis, cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, revealed evidence of myocarditis in four of 26 football, soccer, lacrosse and basketball players as well as track and field athletes, the researchers said.
Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, can cause irregular heartbeat and affect the organ's ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.
The athletes were examined over the summer, and it's unclear whether this heart damage will be long-lasting, study co-author Dr. Saurabh Rajpal told UPI.
"In these athletes, we found evidence of acute changes to the heart muscle on MRI," said Rajpal, a cardiologist at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center.
He and his colleagues plan to continue monitoring the health of all 26 athletes and report findings on other athletes at the school if they contract the virus and compare them to evaluations of athletes who have not been infected, he said.
"Our primary concern in doing this study was the safety of the athletes," Rajpal said. "We felt that if [schools] were going to bring them back [to campus], then it should be done safely."
The study reportedly helped inform the Big Ten conference's decision to postpone fall sports -- including football -- because of the pandemic and related health concerns. However, Rajpal did not confirm that when asked by UPI.
On Aug. 20, WXIA-TV in Atlanta reported that Georgia State quarterback Mikele Colasurdo developed myocarditis after testing positive for COVID-19 and opted to sit out the 2020 season, despite the fact his team, which is a member of the Sun Belt Conference, is playing.
For the Ohio State study, Rajpal and his colleagues performed cardiac MRIs on the 26 athletes after they recovered from the infection. None of the athletes required hospitalization, and none received virus-specific antiviral therapy, the researchers said.
Twelve of the athletes reported mild symptoms -- including fever, sore throat and shortness of breath -- that persisted for a "short duration," according to the researchers.
Of the four athletes with heart inflammation, two had mild COVID-19 symptoms, while the other two remained asymptomatic, the researchers said.
Two developed pericardial effusion, or excess fluid between the heart and the pericardium, the sac that surrounds and protects the organ. Pericardial effusion is often harmless, but it can cause the heart to function poorly.
Electrocardiograms, which measure the heart's electrical activity, revealed no abnormalities, Rajpal said.
"We think the public should be aware of the fact that COVID-19 can affect the heart, and they should be sure to talk to their doctor if they notice any heart-related symptoms, like tightness in the chest or irregular heartbeat," he said.