COVID Links to Heart Problems in Athletes

Beware of COVID-19-related heart problems even in the athletic and healthy

     Finally, it’s game time. You’re about to walk on the field for the first time since March, but suddenly you have an aching pain in your chest. I’m a young athlete… this can’t be a heart problem. But wait, did you have COVID-19? Are you, an athlete, at risk of COVID-19-related heart damage?

      While it’s still very early to determine the long-lasting effects of COVID-19, many have reported an increased rate of myocarditis, a sometimes fatal condition that causes inflammation of the heart muscle even in a previously healthy young athlete. 

      Both the Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez and Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney have developed myocarditis and were shut down for the season, as many more athletes are diagnosed.

     The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published that of 100 patients who had recovered from COVID-19, there was “cardiac involvement” in 78% of the patients and 60% had “ongoing myocardial inflammation.” 

      Soon after, Dr. Curt Daniels’ preliminary study of Ohio State University suggests that close to 15% of college athletes who recovered from COVID-19 had myocarditis, albeit mostly mild or asymptomatic cases.

      While most cases of myocarditis resolve on their own, if left untreated or undiagnosed, myocarditis can cause heart damage, arrhythmias, and even sudden cardiac arrestall of which is exacerbated by strenuous exercise, a daily routine in every athlete’s life. In fact, athletes with myocarditis must stop intense physical activity for weeks or even months until the condition resolves.

     Many don’t know how COVID-19 will affect people in the long term, but Penn State’s director of athletic medicine, Wayne Sebastianelli, suggests that myocarditis may pose its own set of risks, especially in high-performing athletes. With just a little stress on the heart, cardiac output and oxygen consumption can decrease, leading many athletes to find themselves not training as hard or performing their best. Under such conditions, it can feel like running a marathon with a nasty cold. 

     Until new research is published to learn more, the NBA, the Big 10, and some other colleges will conduct mandatory cardiac screenings for all athletes who recover from the virus. The link between COVID-19 and myocarditis is alarming, so before you run onto the field feeling invincible as a healthy young athlete, a lot of uncertainty still remains as to whether you are really safe from the ever looming virus.