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Test May Help Predict Which COVID-19 Patients at Risk for Heart Complications

Patients who developed atrial fibrillation had higher levels of two known markers of heart stress.

A recent study, conducted by investigators from Johns Hopkins Medicine, has discovered that a type of echocardiogram may be able to predict which patients with COVID-19 are most at risk of developing atrial fibrillation and other heart complications.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can increase a person's risk for heart failure and stroke.

Results from the study were published online in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography.

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

For the study, the team of investigators compared 80 COVID-19 patients with 34 patients who did not have COVID-19. They then analyzed echocardiograms of the participants and applied a speckle-tracking strain which can determine how well the left atrium of the heart moves with each heartbeat.

Findings from the study showed that the COVID-19 patients had a reduced functioning of their left atrium and that their atrial strain was significantly lower in comparison to the non-COVID patients.

Additionally, left atrial strain was even lower among the 30% of patients with COVID-19 who developed atrial fibrillation or flutter during their stay at the hospital.

"This tells us that COVID-19 patients with high levels of these biomarkers should be followed more closely and may benefit from an echocardiogram," Goerlich said. "We're also actively studying how these effects on the heart might persist after SARS-CoV-2 infection. It's important to know whether those measures of strain and emptying fraction improve over time."