Heart damage less common among athletes who recover from COVID-19 than previously believed, cardiologists find

Myocarditis is more rare in athletes who have recovered from COVID-19 than previous studies have suggested, according to a new analysis published in Circulation.

The team behind the research letter evaluated 59 athletes from Vanderbilt University who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and then fully recovered. They compared that data to findings from another 60 athletes with no history of COVID-19.

The team found that signs of myocarditis were present in just 3% of patients—a dramatically smaller number than what other researchers had reported. In one study published by JAMA Cardiology, for instance, abnormalities were reported in 78% of recovered COVID-19 patients.

“The differences in the findings are extremely important,” lead author Daniel E. Clark, MD, instructor of cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said in a statement. “The whole world paused after seeing the alarmingly high rates of myocardial inflammation and edema initially published.”

In the letter, the authors also emphasized how crucial cardiac MRI results were to their research.

“Initially, we hoped that the standard screening tests for athletes would be definitive because we wanted something that was widely available and quick,” Clark said. “We hoped that a cardiac MRI would only be used if absolutely necessary. However, their blood work, clinical exams, EKG, echocardiograms and other cardiovascular screening were normal. All of those traditional screening results would have led us to agree to allow some athletes to participate in a sporting event or practice, while the MRI told a different story.”

The full letter is available here.