Cardiologists have launched a campaign warning patients about their increased risk of heart problems after contracting COVID-19, pointing to rises in the prevalence of AF during the pandemic.
The education blitz follows research coming out of the US showing patients who had COVID-19 were 19% more likely to develop AF compared to patients who hadn’t contracted the virus.
This was consistent even among patients who were not hospitalised or had only a mild case of COVID-19, reported the team from Harvard University and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts.
Based on the records of some 20,000 patients in the state’s hospital system, the study also found COVID-19 positive patients had 1.57 times the odds of developing AF compared to pre-pandemic patients.
“This finding stresses the notion that COVID-19 is a cause for relevant extrapulmonary disease,” the researchers reported in Nature Scientific Reports (link here).
Nevertheless, they stressed it remained to be determined whether dedicated screening for irregular heartbeat was warranted in patients who tested positive for COVID-19.
“Also, lowering the threshold for anticoagulation in patients with high risk for AF needs to be investigated—pointing towards data of non-critically ill showing an increased probability of survival to hospital discharge by early therapeutic anticoagulation.”
“A thorough risk assessment for directed anticoagulation measures is furthermore prompted.”
Launching Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Week on Monday, cardiology charity Hearts4Heart said there had also been a 4% increase in AF prevalence last year among hospitalised COVID-19 patients.
“Australians need to be heart smart now more than ever and have their finger on the pulse,” said the charity’s medical director Professor John Amerena.
He said it was important Australians learned to recognise AF symptoms, test for an irregular heartbeat and speak with their GP about getting their hearts checked
Hearts4Heart now provides peer support services and individual risk assessments (in partnership with hospitals and pharmacies across Australia), in addition to raising awareness through national campaigns and other events.