The risk of pneumonia and respiratory distress in COVID-19 patients is well known, but there is increasing evidence of serious cardiovascular problems associated with the disease, according to a study highlighting the need to use proven anti-inflammatory therapies for the heart.
A team of Chinese scientists, led by Shuyang Zhang, of the cardiology department at Pekin Union Medical College, has conducted a study detailing the different ways in which COVID-19 can trigger cardiovascular problems.
In addition, a guide for choosing therapies to avoid or reduce these damages is established, and the risks for the cardiovascular system of some drugs currently being tested against COVID-19 are mentioned. The work is published in an article in the journal Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.
Inflammation plays an important role in the development and complications of cardiovascular disease.
Zhang and his team have seen that COVID-19 patients with increased signs of an inflammatory response are more likely to experience serious cardiovascular events and have a higher risk of dying.
Scientists have identified several ways that COVID-19 can trigger cardiovascular problems: The virus could directly infect and cause inflammation of heart tissue, exacerbate existing cardiovascular problems, or trigger an excessive immune response in the body.
This excessive response refers to a “cytokine storm”. Cytokines are the body’s “red flags”: a foreign agent enters the body, cytokines are released, and the immune system reacts and attacks this foreign microorganism (in this case, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) .
However, when there is a storm of these “alarm signals” or molecules, the immune system gets out of control and not only fights against the virus, but also attacks the body itself.
In this regard, the researchers recommend continuous anti-inflammatory treatment to aid recovery: proven cardiovascular anti-inflammatory therapies should be used to treat patients with COVID-19 who are at risk of developing or have developed cardiovascular problems (these therapies limit the activity of the immune system over the heart).
Regarding experiments with some drugs for COVID-19, the researchers caution that their efficacy and safety are still unknown.
“Some medications used for COVID-19 patients, such as lopinavir / ritonavir, interferon, ribavirin, and hydroxychloroquine, may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular decline,” explains Zhang.
This scientist adds that considering that these drugs may become essential in the clinical treatment of patients with COVID-19, cardiovascular protection strategies are urgently needed to improve the general prognosis.
“We hope that our study will provide useful information to the global community in the hope of improving the clinical management of COVID-19 during this pandemic,” summarizes the Chinese scientist.