Besides heart inflammation (myocarditis), inflammation across the body and damage to other organs, including the kidneys, were common, researchers found. File Photo by Nabil Mounzer/EPA-EFE
A year after being hospitalized with COVID-19, more than 12% of patients had been diagnosed with heart inflammation, according to a new study of the long-term effects of the virus.
For the study, researchers in Scotland followed 159 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between May 2020 and March 2021. A year later, many patients had ongoing health conditions.
Besides heart inflammation (myocarditis), inflammation across the body and damage to other organs, including the kidneys, were common, according to the team from the University of Glasgow and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.
"COVID-19 is a multisystem disease, and our study shows that injury on the heart, lungs and kidneys can be seen after initial hospitalization in scans and blood tests," said principal investigator Colin Berry. He is a professor of cardiology and imaging at the University of Glasgow.
"These results bridge a vital knowledge gap between our current understanding of post-COVID-19 syndromes, such as long COVID, and objective evidence of ongoing disease," Berry said in a university news release.
The study, dubbed CISCO-19 (for Cardiac Imaging in SARS Coronavirus disease-19), is part of a Scottish government effort to boost understanding of the coronavirus pandemic.
Participants were asked about their own impressions of their health. They also underwent blood tests, and CT and MRI scans of multiple organs, including the heart, kidneys and lungs. The researchers also assessed clinical outcomes, including survival, hospital readmission and referral to outpatient clinics.
The investigators found that being hospitalized with COVID-19 was associated with poorer health-related quality of life, as well as with anxiety and depression.
The findings also showed that some patients suffer long-term impacts because of the severity of their COVID-19 symptoms, rather than because of pre-existing health issues.
"The reasons for this are unclear, but it may be that a healthy person who is hospitalized with COVID-19 is likely to have a worse COVID infection than someone with underlying health conditions who is hospitalized," Berry suggested. "More work needs to be done here to understand the risks, and also on how we can better support patients who have ongoing health outcomes after being hospitalized with COVID-19."
Within 450 days of leaving the hospital, one in seven patients had died or been readmitted. In all, two in three required outpatient care.
The study found that long COVID appears to predominantly affect women. The researchers found a link between being female and having myocarditis. That was then tied with lower mental and physical well-being.
The findings suggest a need for focused use of medical tests, new therapy development and rehabilitation, the study authors said. They also highlight the importance of vaccination to help prevent severe COVID-19.
"This study provides important insight into the longer-term effects of COVID-19 infection, and will help inform approaches to treatment going forward," said David Crossman, formerly Scotland's chief scientist (health).
While the study focused on people hospitalized with COVID-19, other research examining cases not requiring hospitalization has reported more encouraging data on long-term health.
The researchers noted that most patients in this study were unvaccinated because they were enrolled early in the pandemic. Risk factors for heart disease were common, including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The report was published online Monday in Nature Medicine. The study is ongoing and will include follow-up with participants after 18 months and five years.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID.
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