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Catching Covid can trigger deadly side effect months later, study finds

‘Higher age and male sex are two important risk factors for getting severely sick with Covid-19’

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 20 April 2023 11:15 BST
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Arcturus: What is the new Covid variant causing a surge in cases

Patients with severe Covid who require mechanical ventilation are likely to develop a potentially life-threatening disease within six months of getting the infection, according to a study.

Covid-19 patients requiring ventilation are 16 times more likely to develop ventricular tachycardia than those who did not have a severe infection, according to research by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Severe Covid also increased the risks of other heart rhythm disorders, it said.

It comes a week after the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was monitoring the new Arcturus Covid-19 sub-variant which is driving a surge of fresh cases in India and sparking fears in countries like the UK and the US.

The XBB.1.16 strain, a sub-variant of Omicron, has been found in 22 countries, including Singapore, Australia, the UK, and the US. Research indicated that Arcturus could be 1.2 times more infectious than the last major sub-variant.

"The actual likelihood of developing ventricular tachycardia or other arrhythmias after severe Covid-19 is low for the individual patient, but much higher than in those without severe infection," said Dr Marcus Stahlberg of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

"Covid-19 patients who need mechanical ventilation often have other conditions and adding a heart rhythm disorder may lead to worsened health,” he added

He said that such patients should seek medical attention if they develop palpitations or irregular heartbeats after hospital discharge so they can be evaluated for possible arrhythmias.

The researchers identified patients with severe Covid infection who were discharged alive from the ICU between March 2020 and June 2021 in Sweden.

The study included 3,023 patients with severe Covid-19 who received mechanical ventilation at a Swedish ICU and 28,463 individuals from the general population who had not been in an ICU.

"Higher age and male sex are two important risk factors for getting severely sick with Covid-19 and this was reflected in our study participants," said Dr Stahlberg.

In the follow-up cases, patients were found to have developed ventricular tachycardia, atrial fibrillation, other tachyarrhythmias, or bradycardia/pacemaker implantation.

The average follow-up duration was nine months.

It was found that patients with severe Covid who required ventilation had a 16-fold risk of ventricular tachycardia, 13-fold risk of atrial fibrillation, 14-fold risk of other tachyarrhythmias, and a 9-fold risk of bradycardia/pacemaker implantation.

"An increased risk of arrhythmias following Covid-19 has also been reported previously in the bulk of Covid-19 patients not requiring ICU treatment. Together with our new data and taking into account that we globally have more than 650 million reported Covid-19 cases, hospital systems should prepare for an increase in patients requiring management for new-onset arrhythmias," Dr Stahlberg said.

According to Hipkins Medicine, ventricular tachycardia is a type of abnormal heart rhythm, or arrhythmia which occurs when the lower chamber of the heart beats too fast to pump well and the body doesn’t receive enough oxygenated blood. A sustained ventricular tachycardia can cause low blood pressure or even cardiac arrest.

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