Why did so many COVID-19 patients have an a-fib episode? Ghazizadeh said various factors can trigger the arrhythmia. It’s known that more-severe COVID-19 can cause widespread inflammation throughout the body, he noted, so that is one likely trigger.
Similarly, there are a few reasons why COVID-19 patients who suffer an a-fib episode have a worse outlook. For one, Ghazizadeh said, the a-fib might be a manifestation of a particularly severe infection.
But the arrhythmia, itself, may worsen damage to other organs, too.
“When [a-fib] happens, the heart isn’t beating efficiently,” Ghazizadeh said. That means blood flow is impaired, which can worsen fluid buildup in other organs.
Ghazizadeh said it’s important for hospital staff to closely monitor heart rhythm in COVID-19 patients with a history of a-fib.
Dr. Mitchell Elkind is president of the heart association and a professor at Columbia University in New York City. He said SARS-CoV-2 is clearly more than a respiratory infection.
“The coronavirus can infect not only the lungs, but also the heart, the linings of the blood vessels, and potentially other organs throughout the body, as well,” Elkind said.
That’s the bad news. A separate study to be presented at the meeting highlighted some reassuring news.
Looking at 17 studies, researchers found that people on two common types of heart medication — ACE inhibitors and angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs) — were not at increased risk of testing positive for COVID-19. And when they did fall ill, they were at no greater risk of dying compared with patients not taking the medications.
ACE inhibitors and ARBs are prescribed for conditions like high blood pressure, heart failure and chronic kidney disease.
Early in the pandemic, there was speculation that the drugs might make people vulnerable to COVID-19. That was based on animal research suggesting the drugs boost activity of ACE2 receptors on body cells. The coronavirus latches onto those receptors to enter cells.
Elkind said the new analysis confirms, in a large group of patients, the safety of the drugs. In fact, when researchers focused only on COVID-19 patients with high blood pressure, use of ACE inhibitors and ARBs was linked to a lower risk of death.