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Working Out After COVID-19 Comes With Risks

November 23, 2020

The long-term effects of COVID-19 on patients who have recovered from the disease aren’t fully known yet. After all, the new strain of coronavirus that causes the disease was only identified in late 2019. However, very active individuals — such as athletes, dancers and workout enthusiasts — who recover from a COVID-19 diagnosis should be aware of possible injuries to the heart and take added precautions. 

What to Watch for 

While most cardiovascular conditions commonly affect older adults, there is one that’s more likely to hit those who are young, healthy and fit. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle related to infection and is the third leading cause of sudden death for children and younger adults, according to the Myocarditis Foundation.

The condition can be triggered by a range of factors, including bacteria, chlamydia, fungi and protozoa. Viruses such as influenza and herpes, however, are the leading culprits. Research is ongoing, but a study published in Cardiovascular Pathology found the condition showing up often in 277 deceased COVID-19 patients. It’s still unclear if COVID-19 attacks the heart or if the inflammation is caused by the body’s response to the virus.

Myocarditis can be relatively silent and is often difficult to detect via overt symptoms. But there are some things to look for if you are recovering from COVID-19. Call your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms: 

  • Fatigue

  • Heart palpitations

  • Shortness of breath, especially after physical exertion or when lying down

  • Swelling in the extremities (hands, legs, ankles, feet)

  • Chest pain/pressure

  • Lightheadedness/dizziness

  • A sudden loss of consciousness

Why Athletes Need to Take It Easy After Recovery

Let’s say you had COVID-19 without needing a trip to the hospital. You recover within 10 to14 days and are ready to return to regular exercise. Are you in danger? Unfortunately, there is still much we don’t know about this disease. The risk is low, but if you resume strenuous exercise too soon with a potentially weakened heart muscle, myocarditis could lead to fainting spells or even a fatal arrhythmia. A better idea would be to wait until your heart muscle has sufficiently recovered before jumping back onto the running trail or basketball court. 

If you suspect you may have myocarditis linked to your viral infection, talk to your doctor. A cardiologist may recommend tests to ensure you can get back to your workout or training routine. In some cases, the doctor may suggest an MRI to look for widespread injury and heart weakness. More extensive testing could include an echocardiogram and ultrasound scans to examine heart health. 

In most cases, patients return to living full and healthy lives after myocarditis. 

A Little Prevention Goes a Long Way 

Your best prevention against myocarditis triggered by COVID-19 is to avoid the virus. You can do so by following these safety practices: 

  • Frequent handwashing 

  • Maintaining physical distance of 6 feet or more when in public 

  • Wearing a properly fitted mask

  • Avoiding large gatherings

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