COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has sickened hundreds of thousands and killed large numbers of people worldwide. There are also several long-term effects of COVID-19.
It is largely regarded as life-threatening for its effects on the lungs. COVID-19 can also cause heart damage, even in people without underlying heart problems.
Coronaviruses cause respiratory infections, so the lungs are usually impacted first.
Early symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These emerge as soon as two days, or as long as 14 days, after exposure to the virus.
Damage can also emerge in other body parts, particularly during severe illness.
How does COVID-19 affect the lungs?
As with other coronavirus illnesses — including SARS, MERS, and the common cold — COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. The lungs are usually impacted first.
Early symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. These materialize as soon as two days, or as long as 14 days, after exposure to the virus.
What other organs are affected by COVID-19?
The lungs are the primary organs impacted by COVID-19. But in severe circumstances, the rest of the body can also be affected.
Harm to the organs isn’t always directly driven by the infection but can result from the body’s response to infection.
Stomach and intestines
Some individuals with COVID-19 have reported gastrointestinal symptoms, such as queasiness or diarrhea. However, these symptoms are much less common than issues with the lungs.
While coronaviruses seem to have an easier time penetrating the body through the lungs, the intestines aren’t out of reach for these viruses.
Early studies pinpointed the viruses that cause SARS and MERS in intestinal tissue biopsies and stool samples.
Heart and blood vessels
COVID-19 can also impact the heart and blood vessels. COVID-19 may cause irregular heart rhythms, not enough blood getting to the tissues, or blood pressure low enough that it needs prescriptions.
So far, though, it’s indefinite how the virus directly harms the heart.
There are indications that COVID-19 may cause the blood to clot more easily. It’s not evident how much this plays in the severity of the disease, but clots could boost the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
The body’s immune system reacts by assailing the alien virus or bacteria with any infection. While this immune reaction can alleviate the body of the disease, it can also sometimes cause collateral injury in the body.
This can come in the form of an extreme inflammatory reaction, sometimes dubbed a “cytokine storm.” The immune cells create cytokines to battle infection, but if too many are fired, it can cause issues in the body.
Not only COVID-19 but other respiratory infections, like influenza and SARS, can exacerbate existing cardiovascular disease and cause new heart problems in otherwise healthy individuals.
More people die of heart problems than respiratory issues like pneumonia during most flu epidemics.
How viruses may cause heart damage
There are many reasons viruses, like the flu virus or SARS-CoV-2, can become fatal. These include:
• Coinfection with another germ.
• Respiratory collapse when the illness fatigues the lungs.
• A “cytokine storm” caused by an overwhelming immune system response to the infection.
What is the bottom line?
Generally deemed a hazard to the lungs, COVID-19 also introduces a substantial threat to heart health.
Although individuals with current heart conditions have a more significant risk, a small percentage of individuals with no preexisting heart problems also encountered heart damage from COVID-19.
Specialists say it’s essential for those with cardiovascular disease to be separated from individuals with COVID-19 symptoms and to stay current with vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia.