HONG KONG, China — COVID-19 may be just the beginning of a patient’s worries, even a year after their infection. A new study finds former coronavirus patients continue to face a much greater risk of dying for at least 18 months after their initial illness. Researchers say having the virus leads to a higher risk for suffering a heart attack or stroke in both the short and long-term.
The study involving more than 150,000 British participants shows that, compared to uninfected people, the likelihood of COVID patients dying increases by a staggering 81 times over the first three weeks of infection. That risk remains five times higher for up to 18 months.
“COVID-19 patients were more likely to develop numerous cardiovascular conditions compared to uninfected participants, which may have contributed to their higher risks of death,” says study author Professor Ian C.K. Wong from the University of Hong Kong in a media release.
“The findings indicate that patients with COVID-19 should be monitored for at least a year after recovering from the acute illness to diagnose cardiovascular complications of the infection, which form part of long COVID.”
COVID patients 4 times more likely to have heart problems
The study compared the occurrence of cardiovascular conditions and death among infected and uninfected people recruited prior to December 2020. At that point, there were no COVID vaccines available to the public in the U.K.
the study identified more than 7,500 British patients with COVID-19 from March 16, 2020 to Nov. 30, 2020. The team matched each patient with up to 10 people who did not have COVID between March 2020 and August 2021 as well as a group pre-pandemic patients.
Each uninfected group had more than 70,000 participants who were similar to the COVID group in terms of their age, sex, smoking history, diabetes status, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, body mass index (BMI), and ethnicity. In all three groups, the average age was 66 and there were nearly equal numbers of men and women.
“The historical control cohort was included to rule out the effect of routine healthcare services being reduced or cancelled during the pandemic, which led to worsening health and increased mortality even in uninfected people,” Prof. Wong explains.
Compared with the two uninfected groups, patients with COVID-19 were roughly four times more likely to develop major cardiovascular disease in the acute phase (within 21 days of COVID-19 diagnosis) and 40 percent more likely in the post-acute phase (22 days to 18 months later). Compared to uninfected people, the risk of death among COVID patients skyrocketed 81 times higher in the acute phase and five-fold higher in the post-acute phase.
Blood clots and strokes also become more likely
Patients with a severe case of COVID were also more likely to develop major cardiovascular disease or die. COVID-19 patients also had a greater likelihood of several cardiovascular conditions, including heart attacks and deep vein thrombosis in comparison to uninfected participants. The results remained steady over the short and long-term.
Risks of some cardiovascular issues – including stroke and irregular heartbeat – increased among COVID patients in the short-term but returned to normal level later on.
“This study was conducted during the first wave of the pandemic, and future research should evaluate subsequent outbreaks. Previous research has indicated that COVID-19 vaccination may prevent complications, and further studies are needed to investigate its effectiveness in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease and death after COVID-19 infection in patients with COVID-19 vaccination compared to those without vaccination,” Prof. Wong adds.
The findings are published in Cardiovascular Research, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).
“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on patients with cardiovascular disease, who were less likely to receive optimal care during the pandemic and more likely to die from the infection. This study shows that COVID-19 also increases the risk of having cardiovascular complications and dying in the first weeks after the infection and remains high for months, suggesting that specific cardiovascular monitoring may be appropriate in these patients,” concludes ESC spokesperson Professor Héctor Bueno of the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Madrid.
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.