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Covid-19 increases the risk of developing heart conditions

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is a nervous-system related health condition which most frequently affects young women of childbearing age. It is characterized by a rapid increase in heartbeat by over 30 beats per minute, or a heart rate exceeding 120 beats per minute, within about 10 minutes of standing. Other symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, or fainting, and – in patients with severe disease – migraines, increased urination, anxiety, sweaty extremities, and tremors. Effective interventions against this disease include avoiding triggers such as prolonged standing, extreme temperatures, or alcohol.

Now, a study led by the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai has found that a small percentage of patients vaccinated against Covid-19 may develop this condition. However, the experts have also discovered that those diagnosed with Covid-19 are five times more likely to develop POTS after infection then after vaccination – a finding emphasizing the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines against post-infection heart conditions.

“The main message here is that while we see a potential link between Covid-19 vaccination and POTS, preventing Covid-19 through vaccination is still the best way to reduce your risk of developing POTS,” said study lead author Alan Kwan, a cardiovascular specialist at Cedars-Sinai.

The scientists analyzed data from 284,592 vaccinated patients treated within the broader Cedars-Sinai Health System from 2020 to 2022, as well as 12,460 patients that had Covid-19. “From this analysis, we found that the odds of developing POTS are higher 90 days after vaccine exposure than the 90 days prior to exposure,” said Kwan. “We also found that the relative odds of POTS were higher than would be explained by increases in visits to physicians after vaccination or infection.”

While these findings identify a possible, yet rare, associated between Covid-19 vaccination and POTS, the rates of POTS after vaccination were much lower than after SARS-CoV-2 infections. Moreover, since before the pandemic this condition was quite difficult to diagnose, in an unexpected but important way, the pandemic increased awareness of POTS, both to patients and healthcare providers. 

“Given a broader understanding of the disease, many patients can be diagnosed more quickly permitting earlier interventions that can greatly improve their symptoms,” explained study co-author Peng-Sheng Chen, an expert in POTS who leads of the few clinics in the country specializing in this condition.

“We recognize as clinicians that side effects from vaccines can vary in type and severity, even if still uncommon overall. We hope that clearer data and improved understanding will eventually enhance medical trust and quality of care as well as communications around vaccines. Ultimately, our goal is to optimize vaccine uptake,” Kwan concluded.

The study is published in the journal Nature Cardiovascular Research


By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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