COVID-19-related heart condition could affect athletes

Posted at 10:12 AM, Aug 12, 2020

Health officials nationwide – and in the Kansas City metro – are warning about heart condition in recovering COVID-19 patients that could have more of an effect on athletes.

Myocarditis, which inflames the heart muscle, is being called the "breaking news" of coronavirus.

"[Myocarditis] can lead to a thinning and distension of the heart and a lack of function in the heart," said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, "And even to heart failure and the need for a heart transplant and bad heart rhythms that can lead to death."

The condition could be exacerbated by the type of exercise athletes are used to.

"In college athletics, we don't know the outcome of myocarditis," Stites said. "We don't know that a high impact sport could worsen the damage to the heart. We don't know what high-intensity exercise might be doing to a heart that's already slightly inflamed. All of those are leading to questions about the safety of returning to high-performance sports."

The hospital and health professionals around the U.S. are screening athletes to better understand how myocarditis affects the organs.

"Our fear is that we could be missing a lot of diseases that we can't see and we can't test for," Stites said, "and that can include very small blood vessel clots inside the heart that lead to more heart damage."

Doctors at KU plan to make an assessment of how this will affect college and high school sports in the coming weeks.

A study in Germany that looked at 100 patients recovering from COVID-19 found that 60% of them had myocarditis independent of preexisting conditions.

Doctors at KU said the condition hasn't been studied as much in the U.S

This story was originally reported by Sarah Plake at KSHB.