Reports of very rare episodes of myocarditis – inflammation of the heart muscle – have been reported after the use of mRNA vaccines such as those produced by Pfizer or Moderna. However, according to a new study presented on 29 November 2021 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), infection with SARS-CoV-2 poses a higher risk of developing this heart condition.
Myocarditis, a disease generally occurring after bacterial of viral infections, can affect the heart’s rhythm and ability to pump properly, often leaving behind lasting damage such as scarring of the heart muscle. Furthermore, it is linked to 20 percent of sudden deaths in young athletes. The COVID-19 pandemic raised concerns regarding an increasing incidence of this condition among young college athletes.
By collecting data from 13 participating schools on the frequency of myocarditis in young athletes recovering from COVID-19, scientists found that 37 out of 1,597 (2.3 percent) developed post-COVID-19 myocarditis. Twenty of these students had no clinical symptoms and the condition could only be identified through cardiac MRI.
“Testing patients for clinical symptoms of myocarditis only captured a small percentage of all patients who had myocardial inflammation,” said study co-author Dr. Jean Jeudy, a professor of Radiology at the University of Maryland. “Cardiac MRI for all athletes yielded a 7.4-fold increase in detection.”
Dr. Jeudy and his colleagues are gathering data regarding the incidence of post-COVID myocarditis in the Big Ten Cardiac Registry, a large database aiming to document the prevalence of this condition among young athletes.
“We still don’t know the long-term effects,” Dr. Jeudy said. “Some athletes had issues that resolved within a month, but we also have athletes with continued abnormalities on their MRI as a result of their initial injury and scarring. There are a lot of chronic issues with COVID-19 that we need to know more about, and hopefully this registry can be one of the major parts of getting that information.”
The researchers hope that further data collection will shed more light on the frequency and severity of such cardiac events, and offer a better understanding of the effects of COVID-19 as well as assist in developing new diagnostic tools and therapeutic pathways.
An initial report was published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.