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COVID-19 linked to heart problems after recovery

Graphic of an EKG heartbeat extending from a heart.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart problems are a common complication among people who are sick with COVID-19. But how long those problems last hasn’t been clear.

Now, a recent study in Nature Medicine has found that people may be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) for at least a year after they recover from COVID-19.

A new risk factor for heart disease

Researchers used databases from the Department of Veterans Affairs to look at the long-term effect of COVID-19 on heart health. They looked at the records of more than 150,000 people who had recovered from COVID-19. To see if heart problems continued after people recovered, they looked at records from 30 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis to one year after. They compared those records with similar groups from the same time and from before the pandemic.

They found that people who had COVID-19 were 1.5 times as likely to have a serious problem, such as a heart attack or stroke, in the year after they had the coronavirus. And their risk of cardiovascular problems of any kind was more than 50% higher.

People who recovered from COVID-19 were at higher risk for a wide range of cardiovascular problems. For example, they were:

  • More than 1.5 times as likely to have atrial fibrillation, a rhythm disorder.
  • More than 1.5 times as likely to have heart failure.
  • More than twice as likely to experience cardiac arrest.

The risks were higher for people who had severe COVID-19. But risks were raised for people who had mild cases too—even if they did not have heart problems before.

You can lower your risk for heart problems

While you can’t change some heart health risks, such as age, you can take steps to lower others. According to the AHA, you can lower your risk by:

  • Stopping smoking. Avoid other tobacco products too.
  • Eating a nutritious diet.
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Managing conditions such as diabetes.

Now, avoiding COVID-19 may be another way to protect your heart. Stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 shots, including boosters.

Want to learn more about how to take charge of your heart health? Visit our Heart Health topic center.

Reviewed 5/2/2022

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.