MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: COVID-19 side-effects.
For most people, COVID-19 is a relatively mild illness. But doctors are starting to realize its effects can linger long after a patient has recovered. WORLD’s Kent Covington reports.
KENT COVINGTON, REPORTER: As a headline news reporter, I cover more than a thousand stories every year. Most don’t have a direct, tangible impact on my life personally. But that changed this spring.
On April 17th, as I stood in my kitchen, I bent over to pet my dog and it felt like someone had punched me in the gut, knocking all the wind out of me. For a split second, I thought wow, maybe I’m a bit more out of shape than I realized. But no, just bending down shouldn’t leave me breathless.
Dr. Sherry-Ann Brown is director of Cardio-Oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She told me that often with COVID-19…
BROWN: The lungs themselves are infiltrated, and because of this, the airways that should normally be filled with air are filled with — not air, primarily with fluid and inflammation.
And the lungs being filled with not air is not good. That’s why I could hardly breathe in that moment. But I didn’t know that at the time.
And it went away pretty quickly. I didn’t have a fever. No cough.
But then I started to have recurring tightness in my chest and that’s when I knew I had to find out about getting tested.
CDC hotline: Thank you for calling CDC info, a service of the Centers for Control and Prevention. If you would like to continue in English…
I drove to a drive-up testing site nearby. A doctor in protective gear used a nasal swab to collect the sample as I sat behind the wheel.
Two days later, I opened my email, and there were my test results—positive.
And shortly thereafter, my daughter also tested positive. So we both hunkered down and isolated from everyone else.
And after 10 days of too much TV and overeating, we had met the CDC criteria. Our mild symptoms were gone and neither of us ever ran a fever.
We’re perfectly healthy now, with an interesting story to tell. No worse for the wear, right?
Well, as it turns out, not necessarily.
In Senate testimony last month, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci said this…
FAUCI: We found to our dismay that a number of individuals who have completely recovered and apparently are asymptomatic, when they have sensitive imaging technology such as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI are found to have a disturbing number of individuals who have inflammation of the heart.
That disturbing number, in that particular sample, 60 to 70 percent.
Whether that damage is permanent or will generally heal with time, Fauci said we just don’t know.
He noted that “When you have inflammation you can have scarring … that could lead to arrhythmias later on.” In other words, an irregular heartbeat. And he said it can also lead to something called cardiomyopathy.
Dr. Brown put that in plain english for me.
BROWN: Cardiomyopathy mainly refers to any dysfunction of the heart muscle. And primarily, we look at lower chambers of the heart when we are looking for cardiomyopathy.
With cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle can be weakened, meaning it doesn’t pump as well. And that can cause heart failure.
And the heart isn’t the only organ at risk for long-term complications with this disease. Dr. Brown said doctors have found tiny blood clots in the lungs and elsewhere in the bodies of COVID-19 patients.
BROWN: We see that strokes are noticed more commonly in COVID-19 than one might expect, as well as different forms of issues with the heart and other organs such as the kidneys, and so any of those organs could potentially have lasting effects.
As far as the heart is concerned, Dr. Brown says regardless of whether you’ve had the coronavirus, you should watch for symptoms.
BROWN: If you’re having trouble breathing or any chest discomfort, especially if it radiates to anywhere else in the body such as the arms, jaw, back. If there is any fainting or feeling lightheaded when normally you wouldn’t or any of those things. All of those can be indicators that something perhaps needs to be looked at.
She added that if you experience one or two of those things, there’s no need to panic. There are many harmless conditions that can cause things like chest discomfort or lightheadedness.
The possible long-term effects are just something to be aware of and be sure to mention any symptoms you notice to your doctor.
There’s still so much we don’t know about this disease and the long-term impacts. One thing is certain. Dr. Brown said this is NOT something we should compare to the flu.
BROWN: More serious, more long lasting, and more contagious.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kent Covington.