Roundup: Long COVID Linked to Higher Heart Health Risk; Update on Late-Stage Colon Cancer in Young Adults; and More

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February 18, 2022


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Study: COVID Linked to Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Illness Up to 12 Months After Infection

A new, large-scale study found that U.S. veterans who survived COVID-19 were more likely to have some type of cardiovascular condition during the 12 months that followed initial infections.

The risk of heart disease increased depending on the severity of the COVID-19 illness, but even those with mild sickness initially were at risk, according to researchers who reviewed health records from more than 153,000 U.S. veterans. The study, conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, was published in Nature Medicine.

The study is considered one of the first to comprehensively monitor long-term cardiovascular-related effects linked to the coronavirus. Such lingering physical ailments are referred to generally as “long COVID.” Many patients have reported brain fog, fatigue, weakness, loss of smell or other issues that persist for months after an infection. Some researchers also add a higher risk of cardiovascular-related illness to the list of long COVID symptoms.

Compared with those in the control groups without any COVID infections, veterans who contracted COVID-19 were 72 percent more likely to suffer from coronary artery disease, 63 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 52 percent more likely to experience a stroke. Overall, those infected with COVID were 55 percent more likely than those without infection to suffer “a major adverse cardiovascular event, which includes heart attack, stroke and death,” states a news release on the study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“We wanted to build upon our past research on COVID’s long-term effects by taking a closer look at what’s happening in people’s hearts,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University. “What we’re seeing isn’t good. COVID-19 can lead to serious cardiovascular complications and death. The heart does not regenerate or easily mend after heart damage. These are diseases that will affect people for a lifetime.”

For the study, researchers used statistical modeling to compare cardiovascular outcomes in the COVID-19 dataset with two other groups of people not infected with the virus — a control group of more than 5.6 million patients who did not have COVID-19 during the same time-frame.

“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’s authors wrote. “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.”


Study: Late-Stage Colon Cancer Diagnosed in More Younger Adults

Adults ages 20 to 49 are increasingly being diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer, which is a less treatable form of the disease, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine examined data from 100,000 people with adenocarcinoma, the most common type of colon cancer or malignant tumor. They found that patients 20- to 29-years-old had the highest increase in rates of new colon cancer cases that were more likely in a latter stage, which means the cancer has already spread. Subgroups of non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic participants had the highest increases, the study said. Their study is published in the journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The leading U.S. panel of experts in medical guidance last year updated its recommendation, urging adults 45 to 75 years of age to be screened for colorectal cancer to reduce their risk of dying from this disease. Previously, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPST) recommended that people aged 50 to 75 be regularly screened.

Rates of colorectal cancer in people younger than 50 have been increasing by about 2 percent a year. Consult with your primary care physician to determine if you are at average risk for colorectal cancer and when you should be screened. Colorectal cancer, which includes bowel cancer, colon cancer, or rectal cancer, refers to any cancer that affects the colon and the rectum.

The study concludes: “Optimizing earlier screening initiatives and risk-stratifying younger patients by symptoms and family history are critical to counteract rising distant stage disease.”


CDC: Booster Effectiveness Declines After 4 Months, But Remains Strong in Preventing Hospitalizatons

Booster shots, or third doses, of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines provide reduced effectiveness after about four months — but still offer significant protection from hospitalization related to COVID-19, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During the current Omicron surge, researchers found the booster shots remained highly effective against moderate and severe COVID-19 for about two months following a third dose.

But the CDC indicates that additional boosters may be needed. For now, the agency concludes that: “All eligible persons should remain up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations to best protect against COVID-19–associated hospitalizations and ED/Urgent Care visits.”

Vaccine effectiveness remained high — at 91 percent — in preventing hospitalization during the two months after a booster shot, researchers found. After four months, protection declined to 78 percent.

Protection against visits to urgent care centers and emergency departments fell from 87 percent to 66 percent after four months.

“These findings underscore the importance of receiving a third dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to prevent both COVID-19–associated ED/Urgent Care encounters and COVID-19 hospitalizations among adults,” the CDC states. “The finding that protection conferred by mRNA vaccines waned in the months after receipt of a third vaccine dose reinforces the importance of further consideration of additional doses to sustain or improve protection against COVID-19-associated ED/UC encounters and COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

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