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Some COVID-19 patients show signs of heart problems months after recovery

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 2:27 PM EST
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(CNN) – It’s been around for more than a year now, but there’s still much to learn about COVID-19 and its possible lingering effects on the heart.

Several studies suggest COVID-19 survivors may continue to suffer from virus-related heart damage, even if they weren’t sick enough to be hospitalized.

“I can’t underscore enough how important it is that we use this as a wake-up call to really get our lifestyles into better shape,” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado.

Freeman said some patients who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to experience complications like elevated heart rates, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm and a prolonged fatigued state, even months after recovery.

“What I tell people, and what I’m seeing, is, ‘My hope is that you’ll have a full recovery like other viral syndromes, but we’re definitely seeing people who have not fully recovered,’” Freeman said.

Freeman said it’s still unclear how long those effects may last, but those who are most at risk for heart problems after a COVID-19 diagnosis are significantly overweight, not active, and have other underlying conditions like diabetes.

“You may want to talk with a cardiologist if you’re short of breath, if your legs are swelling, if your belly is swelling,” Freeman said. “If you’re finding that you can’t have a conversation with people anymore because you’re so short of breath, these are important signs and symptoms.”

While the pandemic may have people afraid to seek medical care, Freeman said it’s important to do so.

“The number one killer of people in the United States is still heart disease. It’s not COVID,” Freeman said. “So, people need to take their symptoms seriously.”

Freeman said there are ways to help lower one’s risk of heart problems, regardless of COVID status: exercise, a plant-based diet, lowering stress, connecting with others and getting at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep.

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