New research database helping cardiologists study COVID-19’s impact on collegiate athletes’ hearts

Cardiologists study cardiac health of collegiate athletes with COVID-19

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The American Heart Association and American Medical Society for Sports Medicine helped create a new research database of more than 3,000 college athletes who tested positive for COVID-19. The database is meant to determine the short-term and long-term effects of the virus on collegiate athletes’ hearts.

According to the Chairman of the Cardiac Institute at UTHSC and Methodist Le Bonheur, Dr. John Jefferies, “You just have to remember that we don’t know as much as we need to know at this point.”

The main concern with coronavirus and college athletes is myocarditis. The heart condition has been talked about since sports resumed in the pandemic. In simple terms, it’s the inflammation of the heart.

“Is it something that goes away? Does it put you at risk for something in the future? And the answer, it very well may,” Dr. Jefferies said.

Researchers and cardiologists are working to piece together who gets myocarditis as a result of Covid-19. According to Dr. Jefferies, the AHA’s database is a point of reference to try and find commonalities between different populations.

“Sex, ethnicity, of race, socioeconomic status and that really informs a lot of what we do at the American Heart Association because we know that there’s these disparities that exist.”

That doesn’t mean that sports should stop. In fact, Dr. Jefferies has kids and said he’d let them play collegiate sports right now with the proper screening in place. He also wants athletes to know the signs and symptoms so they can be their own advocates for their health.

According to Dr. Jefferies, some signs are, “Chest pain, shortness of breath that is out of proportion than what you would typically expect. Palpitations or fluttering, unusual feelings in your chest, dizziness or passing out.”

All signs only the athlete can identify. Which is why Jefferies wants the message to reach collegiate, or competitive athletes who tend to push themselves through discomfort.

“We need to make sure that the coaches and the teams don’t penalize people for that,” he stressed. “We’re not trying to derail your career. We’re not trying to disrupt your goal, you’re dream. We want you to achieve all of that. You’re not going to do that if you’re dead.”

Dr. Jefferies said myocarditis is viral in the United States. Meaning, it’s always in your system but can lay dormant for some time and reappear later in life, similar to the chicken pox and shingles. Therefore, athletes who do have the condition will need to be monitored and screened past their athletic careers.

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