While heart disease has been one of the major health concerns in India, Covid-19 has exacerbated the condition significantly, said experts on Monday.
According to the Global Burden of Disease, nearly a quarter (24.8 per cent) of all deaths in India is due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
"Heart disease and Covid are intricately linked. If you remove the 'O' and 'I', Covid becomes CVD. Covid- 19 is like a stress test for the heart," Dr Ramakanta Panda, cardiac surgeon and head of Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai, told IANS.
"Covid affects the heart in 20 per cent of the cases," added Dr Bipin Kumar Dubey, Head of Department and Consultant, Cardiology, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals, New Delhi.
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The cardiologists explained that Covid affects the heart in two ways: first it blocks the coronary artery, second it results in the weakening of the heart muscles.
For people who already have a blockage, Covid can cause a full blockage. In those that do not have a blockage, sudden clots can form, leading to a heart attack.
In the case of weak heart muscles, these cannot pump blood, patients become breathless, and the risk of an attack increases.
Typically, Covid causes heart conditions in those above 60, and with some form of blockage in their body, or co-morbidities like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, or are smokers.
However, Dubey noted: "In the last few days, I have seen asymptomatic patients come in, and complain of pain and then suffer from a heart attack.
"It is not dependent on how severe Covid is. Even asymptomatic patients can suffer from heart attacks and heart related issues."
Even a mild case of Covid-19 can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular problems for at least a year after diagnosis, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Researchers found that rates of many conditions, such as heart failure and stroke, were substantially higher in people who had recovered from Covid than in similar people who hadn't had the disease.
"The logic is simple: Covid is known to affect the lungs. The air we breathe contains oxygen and goes to our lungs. When the lungs don't do their job, the heart gets stressed and has to work harder. This increased demand for oxygen may cause heart rhythm disturbances; which in turn might lead to heart attack or heart failure," Panda said.
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He stated that Covid unmasks silent cardiac symptoms among people with previously undiagnosed heart disease.
Further, Panda noted that several chemicals are released by the body to fight the Covid virus.
"These can also weaken heart muscles causing clotting of blood among infected patients. Hence, Covid-19 can also present itself as heart disease," he said.