SALT LAKE CITY – One year into the pandemic, doctors have noticed a trend: Some patients with COVID-19 are coming out of the illness with heart problems, and heart complications are contributing to many coronavirus-related deaths.
Intermountain Healthcare said recent studies show 20% of patients with COVID-19 may have heart problems by the end of their illness.
Travis Smith can relate.
"I was always under the assumption, I'm 30 years old. I should be OK," Smith said.
In July Smith got the virus and it started, as you might expect, with the typical symptoms — until one night.
"The only way I've been able to describe that night was it felt like my heart was trying to go between my rib cage and crawl right out," he said.
When he was 8 years old, Smith was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia or an abnormally fast heartbeat. Since then, he's experienced about two episodes a year. Since he had COVID-19, he has about five episodes a week.
"You hear it's a respiratory virus, so everyone is worried about lungs and their breathing," he said. "The biggest COVID factor for me has been heart issues."
Smith is not alone.
"It's pretty clear that COVID can affect the heart in a minority or a subset of patients," said Dr. Kirk Knowlton, chief of cardiology at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute.
In addition, heart complications can increase how severe the virus is and the risk of death. A recent study showed heart problems may contribute to about 40% of all coronavirus-related deaths.
"It's even more important to keep them from exposure to COVID and also be aggressive about getting them vaccinations," Knowlton said, speaking of those with cardiovascular complications. "It's probably the best tool we have to make sure we don't get COVID-related heart disease."
Knowlton also urged those with heart complications to get the medical care they need, when they need it.
"There have been too many stories of people who unfortunately are afraid they'll get COVID and wait. And either they complete a heart attack, or a few have even died at home," he said. "That's a real problem we worry a lot about is making sure people come in to get treated."
From September 2020:
For now, Smith's running days are on hold. His heart just can't take it. His cardiologist doesn't know how long it could last.
"Unfortunately, that's the hand I've been given lately," he said.
You can be sure he'll rush to get the vaccine next week when the first dose becomes available to those age 18 and older with heart problems and other medical conditions.
"Pretty excited that line has finally come for us," he said.