Cardiologists raise concerns about coronavirus causing myocarditis to cause sudden heart attacks in athletes

Cardiologists are increasingly concerned that coronavirus infections in the brain can cause complications that lead to sudden cardiac death in athletes.

Why it matters: Even if only a small percentage of COVID-19 cases lead to major cardiac conditions, the full reach of the pandemic increases the risk for those who regularly engage in the most strenuous physical activity – including amateurs who may be less conscious of the danger.

The news ride: Both the Big 10 and Pac-12 conferences announced this week that they would not be playing college football in the fall due to health concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • According to ESPN, a major factor driving these decisions has been fear that COVID-19 may lead to an increase in myocarditis among athletes.

Myocarditis is in inflammation of the heart caused by viral infections that can lead to rapid or abnormal heart rhythms and even sudden cardiac death.

  • Myocarditis causes about 75 deaths per year in young athletes between the ages of 13 and 25, often without warning. 27-year-old Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis collapsed at a practice and died soon after in 1993 from myocarditis.
  • While research is still in its infancy, a July study of 100 adult patients in Germany recovered from COVID-19 that had 60% findings of persistent myocardial inflammation.
  • It is a pity that patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms develop myocarditis as often as those admitted to the hospital, and increases the possibility that those who may not even know they have COVID-19 may be at risk.
  • This is important because athletes with myocarditis need to stop intense physical activity for weeks or even months until the conditions cease. Otherwise, says Emory University sports cardiologist Jonathan Kim, they put themselves in danger of “cardiac arrest and a catastrophic outcome.”

By the figures: NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline said in a press release Thursday that so far a dozen university athletes were found to have myocarditis after testing positive for COVID-19.

College athlete and to a greater extent have professional benefits from more frequent COVID-19 tests and supervision of physicians who know how to look for signs of myocarditis.

  • But amateur athletes can be largely on their own, even if they are also at risk of myocarditis and sudden death, they will need to continue to engage in vigorous exercise after a COVID-19 infection.
  • “For your high-end marathoners and triathletes, [myocarditis] is a reasonable consideration, “says Kim.” It’s something to discuss with your doctor or consultation with a sports cardiologist before returning to training. “
  • Yes, but: Those of us who exercise to stay healthy but have no intention of entering the Ironman Triathlon probably have little to worry about.

The finish line: The more we learn about COVID-19, the more varied the threat it poses. But a little seems scarcer than the possibility of sudden cardiac death in the fittest among us.