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New LSU Health study sheds light on coronavirus heart impacts

Updated: Jul. 21, 2020 at 5:34 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A new study conducted by pathologists with LSU Health New Orleans shows the impacts of the coronavirus on the human heart may be less severe than first thought.

“We looked at 22 hearts from cases at LSU and at UMC-NO and what we found was there was no significant inflammation associated with the hearts,” said leading researcher, Dr. Richard Vander Heide, who says those findings fly in the face of the way other viruses impact the heart and were somewhat surprising.

“Because a lot of the initial studies came out of China earlier this year and suggested that there was a lot of miocarditis and primary heart disease associated with the virus,” he said.

Myocarditis is an inflamed heart condition often attributed to a virus, which The Mayo Clinic says can affect your heart’s ability to pump. But researchers did find the disease may kill heart muscle cells, called myocytes.

“What we found was there were individual myocytes that were dying, but there was no large areas of inflammation or large areas of cell death,” said Dr. Vander Heide.

The study also found most of the coronavirus damage is being caused to a patient’s respiratory system.

“They are dying from hypoxic respiratory failure and not from the cardiac complications,” said Dr. Vander Heide.

Dr. Vander Heide says the new study could provide guidance to doctors now on the front lines in the fight against coronavirus.

Researchers say the study could guide doctors to focus elsewhere when biomarkers, called cardiac enzymes, which often indicate heart problems, appear.

“When patients present initially they show small increases in cardiac enzymes and this is not something that needs to be treated aggressively,” said Dr. Vander Heide.

While LSU researchers say the new study is eye-opening, they say more research is still needed.

“We are continuing to build on our database.” said Dr. Vander Heide.

Doctors hope this data will be useful in providing more effective coronavirus treatments in the future.

The study was conducted on 22 patients who died of COVID-19 at UMC. The majority were African American. They ranged in age from 44 to 79-years-old at the time of their deaths.

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