SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah researchers said they have made an important discovery about how COVID-19 affects the blood of infected patients, potentially leading to dangerous strokes and heart attacks.
They discovered COVID-19 triggers changes in blood platelets that could contribute to the onset of heart attacks, strokes and other complications.
“I’ve always been interested in platelets, and how platelets change during infection,” said Dr. Robert Campbell, assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah.
Campbell was focused on the changes in blood platelets in patients infected with COVID-19.
Platelets are the cells that play a role in heart attacks and strokes. When a patient is infected with COVID-19, Campbell said the body has an inflammatory response affecting all parts of the body, including the blood.
“We think that these changes cause the platelets to become more hyperreactive,” said Campbell. “So they like to interact with each other, and when they do that they end up clogging your arteries or your veins, and you develop these clots that people have been talking about with COVID-19.”
They believe that hyperactivity can lead to dangerous and potentially deadly blood clots.
“We think COVID-19 is changing how the platelets react with each other, and with other cells, that may predispose those individuals for developing strokes and heart attacks during COVID-19,” the researcher said.
Campbell and his team studied 41 COVID-19 patients at University of Utah Hospital. Seventeen of those patients were in the ICU, including nine who were on ventilators. They compared blood from those patients with samples taken from healthy individuals who were matched for age and sex.
Their report appears in Blood, an American Society of Hematology journal.
Recent research suggests patients with COVID-19 were much more likely to develop strokes due to blood clots.
Researchers also believe the platelets are interacting with other cells fighting the infection and changing how those cells act, making the infection even worse.
“It’s an important piece of the puzzle that maybe the platelets are contributing to the clotting that is associated with COVID-19,” said Campbell.