Cardiovascular complications are uncommon for children and young adults after COVID-19 disease or SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association.
However, the infection can cause some children and young people to experience arrhythmias, myocarditis, pericarditis, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a new condition identified during the pandemic, it notes.
The statement details what has been learned about how to treat, manage, and prevent cardiovascular complications associated with COVID-19 in children and young adults and calls for more research, including studies following the short- and long-term cardiovascular effects.
It also reports that COVID-19 vaccines have been found to prevent severe COVID-19 disease and decrease the risk of developing MIS-C by 91% among children ages 12-18 years.
On returning to sports, it says data suggest it is safe for young people with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 to resume exercise after recovery from symptoms. For those with more serious infections, it recommends additional tests, including cardiac enzyme levels, electrocardiogram, and echocardiogram, before returning to sports or strenuous physical exercise.
The scientific statement was published online on in Circulation.
“Two years into the pandemic and with vast amounts of research conducted in children with COVID-19, this statement summarizes what we know so far related to COVID-19 in children,” said chair of the statement writing group Pei-Ni Jone, MD, from the Children’s Hospital Colorado, Aurora.
Analysis of the latest research indicates children generally have mild symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the U.S., as of Feb. 24, 2022, children under 18 years of age have accounted for 17.6% of total COVID-19 cases and about 0.1% of deaths from the virus, the report states.
In addition, young adults, ages 18-29 years, have accounted for 21.3% of cases and 0.8% of deaths from COVID-19.
Like adults, children with underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung disease or obesity and those who are immunocompromised are more likely to be hospitalized, to be admitted to an intensive care unit, and to die of COVID-19, the statement notes. There are conflicting reports on the risk of severe COVID-19 in children and young adults with congenital heart disease, with some reports suggesting a slightly increased risk of severe COVID-19.
In terms of cardiovascular complications of COVID-19 in children, arrhythmias have included ventricular tachycardia and atrial tachycardia, as well as first-degree atrioventricular block. Although arrhythmias generally self-resolve without the need for treatment, prophylactic antiarrhythmics have been administered in some cases, and death caused by recurrent ventricular tachycardia in an adolescent with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has been described.
Elevations of troponin, electrocardiographic abnormalities, including ST-segment changes, and delayed gadolinium enhancement on cardiac magnetic resonance imaging have been seen in those with myocardial involvement. Although death is rare, both sudden cardiac death and death after intensive medical and supportive therapies have occurred in children with severe myocardial involvement.
In a large retrospective pediatric case series of SARS-CoV-2–associated deaths in individuals under 21 years of age, the median age at death was 17 years, 63% were male, 28% were Black, and 46% were Hispanic. Of those who died, 86% had a comorbid condition, with obesity (42%) and asthma (29%) being the most common.
But the report concludes that: “Although children with comorbidities are at increased risk for symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, compared with healthy children, cardiovascular complications, severe illness, and death are uncommon.”