Imaging technique could help predict heart rhythm issues among COVID-19 patients

Echocardiograms can play a pivotal role in the assessment of COVID-19 patients, helping determine when the risk is especially high for significant heart complications, according to new research out of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The analysis, published in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography, included 80 hospitalized patients with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis and another 34 patients with no history of COVID-19. Researchers turned to echocardiograms to evaluate each patient, using speckle-based strain to take a closer look at the functionality of the left atrium.

Overall, left atrial strain was significantly (28.2% vs. 32.6%) and left atrial emptying fraction (55.7% vs. 64.1%) were much lower among the hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Left atrial strain was even lower among COVID-19 patients who went on to develop atrial fibrillation (AFib) or atrial flutter.

And, the group emphasized, those calculations can all be made without putting the patient through additional testing.

“A lot of patients already get echocardiograms while in the hospital; the addition of strain analysis requires no extra scanning of the patient,” first author Erin Goerlich, MD, a cardiology fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement. “So this is a safe and affordable new data point that can clue us in about who might develop AFib.”

More research is still needed, the group noted, and they hope to learn more about COVID-19’s long-term impact on the heart.

“It’s important to know whether those measures of strain and emptying fraction improve over time,” senior author Allison Hays, MD, medical director of echocardiography programs at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said in the same statement.

The group’s findings are available here.

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