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Healthwatch 16: COVID-19 and your heart

According to officials with Geisinger Medical Center, studies indicate that a percentage of COVID-19 survivors have signs of heart muscle inflammation.

Researchers are watching how COVID-19 affects the heart.

"There is a condition that's documented in a variety of viral illnesses called myocarditis. What that is is a direct inflammation of the heart related to the viral infection, as well as the immune response, which is the body's response to fight this off," said Dr. Martin Matsumura, a cardiologist with Geisinger. "That combination of direct infection and the body's attempt to fight off the virus may result in direct heart injury."

"There's not a lot of data or information about it in children. But there is some, and what it looks like is yes, it does happen in kids, too. Mostly we see that in kids with MISC, which is not the same thing as an acute COVID-19 infection," said pediatric cardiologist Dr. Robert Mangano.

"We did have one young person, age 18, who came in with the inflammatory syndrome, who was actually near death. His heart barely worked. He came pretty close to passing away. There were some things done that bailed him out here at Geisinger, and he recovered, and his heart function recovered," Dr. Mangano said.

Is it something that will resolve itself, or could it result in damage that is more long-lasting than the virus?

"The majority of patients with viral myocarditis get better with time, resolution of the virus, and treatment. There is a small subset that develops a condition called cardiomyopathy," Dr. Matsumura explained. "One of the concerns and one of the unknowns that causes us angst is that we really don't know what the likelihood they'll develop long term problems is."

There are ways to look for viral myocarditis, and there are ways to treat it using various drugs and ways to monitor heart function. Doctors will be further studying the link between the illness and COVID-19 as the pandemic goes on.