Your Lungs Aren’t the Only Thing at Risk with COVID-19

Although our respiratory system may be theprimary target of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, there is growingconsensus within the medical community that the virus is also a vasculardisease that can wreak havoc on one’s blood vessels and lead to other seriouscomplications.

“COVID-19 is not a respiratory illness alone. It also invades the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels, causing damage and inflammation,” explains Ian Del Conde Pozzi, M.D., cardiologist and director of Vascular Medicine at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida.

Ian Del Conde Pozzi, M.D., cardiologist and director of Vascular Medicine at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

A respiratory virusinfecting blood cells and circulating through the body is virtually unheard of,according to Dr. Del Conde. “Influenza viruses like H1N1 are not known to dothis,” he says, adding that the original SARS virus, a sister coronavirus tothe current infection, did not spread past the lung.

In a recent study published in the medicaljournal The Lancet, researchersdiscovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect the endothelial cells that linethe inside of blood vessels. Endothelial cells protect the cardiovascularsystem, and they release proteins that influence everything from blood clottingto the immune response. In the paper, the scientists showed damage toendothelial cells in the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and intestines in peoplewith COVID-19.

Researchersfound that when the virus enters the lung, it destroys the lung tissue, andpeople start coughing. The destruction of the lung tissue breaks open someblood vessels, and the virus then starts to infect endothelial cells. Thiscreates a local immune response, and causes inflammation of the endothelium,which can trigger a cascade of other symptoms as the body marshals all of itsammunition to fight off this new virus.

This may explain a myriad of vascularpresentations seen with the virus, Dr. Del Conde says. “We’re seeing a lot ofpatients present with COVID-19 symptoms who also have blood clots. Depending onwhere these clots are located, they can cause life-threatening conditions suchas brain stroke, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.”

Another common complication with COVID-19 isinflammation, which can do lasting damage to one’s heart and other organs. Accordingto statistics from the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately 40percent of all deaths from COVID-19 are related to cardiovascularcomplications.

Doctors at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute have developedspecific protocols for managing patients with COVID-19 who present with heartattack or stroke. “Patients who are at greatest risk with COVID-19 are thosewith significant chronic illnesses such as cardiac disease,” Dr. Del Condenotes. “Most people who die from COVID-19 actually die from multiorganfailure.”

New therapies offer hope for patients suffering from severeCOVID-19 and other health issues, according to Dr. Del Conde. “We’re using someof the latest therapies to treat patients here at Miami Cardiac & VascularInstitute and even some of our most critically ill patients have made a fullrecovery,” he says.

At the same time, Dr. Del Conde cautions anyone with underlying heart disease against avoiding or delaying treatment because of COVID-19. “Complications from untreated cardiac issues may well represent the greatest risk to the health of these patients,” says Dr. Del Conde. “It has been reported – and we have certainly seen this in our practice – that patients experience serious cardiovascular complications from avoiding care.”

Concerned you may have coronavirus?
Use our online Coronavirus Assessment tool or call our COVID-19 hotline, 1-833-MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). To see a doctor on your phone from the comfort and safety of your home, download Baptist Health Care On Demand

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