After COVID, elevated risk for heart problems lasts one year

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People who recover from COVID-19 infections carry an elevated risk of heart problems for at least one year after catching the virus.

A new study shows that even a mild case of COVID can increase the risk of 20 different heart and blood vessel conditions, including heart failure and stroke. That risk increases for people that have symptoms like brain fog or fatigue that last past a year.

The research was published in Nature Medicine in February.

According to the study, a COVID infection increases a person's risk for heart failure by 72%, heart attack by 63% and stroke by 52% -- even if the illness is mild.

"The risks were evident regardless of age, race, sex and other cardiovascular risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and hyperlipidemia," the study says. "They were also evident in people without any cardiovascular disease before exposure to COVID-19, providing evidence that these risks might manifest even in people at low risk of cardiovascular disease."

Researchers tracked more than 150,000 veterans who survived after contracting COVID-19 and compared their health information to current and historical patient data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The study found that the risk for several cardiovascular conditions increased in the year after an acute COVID infection, including heart rhythm irregularities, inflammation of the heart, chest pains, deadly blood clots, ischemic heart disease and cardiac arrest.

"It doesn't matter if you are young or old, it doesn't matter if you smoked, or you didn't. The risk was there," Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research and development at VA Saint Louis Health Care System and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

As for why COVID-19 increases the risk of heart disease, the link isn't exactly clear. But given the large and growing number of people infected with COVID-19, a large number of people around the would could potentially be affected by increased cardiovascular diseases in the months and years to come, the study notes.

"Governments and health systems around the world should be prepared to deal with the likely significant contribution of the COVID-19 pandemic to a rise in the burden of cardiovascular diseases," the study says. "Because of the chronic nature of these conditions, they will likely have long-lasting consequences for patients and health systems and also have broad implications on economic productivity and life expectancy."

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images