Even mild cases of COVID-19 can have long-term harmful impacts on cardiovascular health, a study has warned.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, is the first to compare pre and post COVID-infection levels of arterial stiffness; a marker associated with the ageing and function of our arteries.
Researchers found that in individuals diagnosed with mild COVID-19, artery and central cardiovascular function were affected by the disease two to three months after infection.
Side effects include stiffer and more dysfunctional arteries that could lead to cardiovascular disease development, they said. ”We were surprised to observe such a decline in vascular health, which deteriorated even further with time since COVID-19 infection,” said study co-author, Maria Perissiou from the University of Portsmouth in the UK.
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”Usually, you would expect inflammation to decrease with time after infection, and for all the physiological functions to go back to normal or a healthy level,” Perissiou said.
Emerging evidence suggests that this phenomenon stems from COVID-19 triggering the auto-immune process that leads to vasculature deterioration, the researchers said.
While COVID-19 has been associated with a type of acute heart failure and vascular dysfunction, the long-term consequences of the disease on vascular health still need to be explored, they said.
As many as 32 participants in the study were monitored between October 2019 and April 2022 at the University of Split School of Medicine, Croatia.
Most were young, less than 40-years-old, and healthy. Only 9 per cent of the group had high blood pressure, and none had high cholesterol. Two were diabetic, and 78 per cent did not smoke. The group was also almost an even split between males (56 per cent) and females (44 per cent). ”Given the number of people infected with COVID-19 worldwide, the fact that infection can have harmful effects on cardiovascular health in young people who had a mild form of the disease warrants close monitoring,” Professor Ana Jeroncic from the University of Split, who led the study, said.
”The question remains as to whether this harmful effect is irreversible or permanent, and if not, for how long it lasts,” Jeroncic said.
The study, while small, does support the prediction amongst vascular physiologists that there will be an increase in cardiovascular disease in the future as a result of COVID-19 infections, the researchers said.
However, it needs to be taken into consideration what other variables would have contributed to this increase, they said.