People who have had COVID-19 have an increased risk for, and 12-month burden of, cardiovascular disease (CVD) that is substantial and spans an array of cardiovascular disorders, a deep dive into federal data suggests.
“I went into this thinking that this is most likely happening in people to start with who have a higher risk of cardiovascular disorders, smokers, people with high BMI, diabetes, but what we found is something different,” Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, said in an interview. “It’s evident in people at high risk, but it was also as clear as the sun even in people who have no cardiovascular risk whatsoever.”
Rates were increased in younger adults, never smokers, White and Black people, and males and females, he said. “So the risk confirmed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus seems to spare almost no one.”
Although cardiovascular outcomes increased with the severity of the acute infection, the excess risks and burdens were also evident in those who never required hospitalization, a group that represents the majority of people with COVID-19, observed Dr. Al-Aly, who directs the Clinical Epidemiology Center at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System.
“This study is very important because it underscores not just the acute cardiovascular risk associated with COVID but the increased risk of chronic cardiovascular outcomes as well,” cardiologist C. Michael Gibson, MD, professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, said in an interview. “Given the number of patients in the U.S. who have been infected with COVID, this could represent a significant chronic burden on the health care system, particularly as health care professionals leave the profession.”
For the study, the investigators used national VA databases to build a cohort of 153,760 veterans who were alive 30 days after testing positive for COVID-19 between March 1, 2020, and January 2021. They were compared with a contemporary cohort of 5.6 million veterans with no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection and a historical cohort of 5.8 million veterans using the system in 2017 prior to the pandemic. Median follow-up was 347, 348, and 347 days, respectively.
As reported in Nature Medicine, the risk for a major adverse cardiovascular event, a composite of myocardial infarction, stroke, and all-cause mortality, was 4% higher in people who had been infected with COVID-19 than in those who had not.
“People say 4% is small, but actually it’s really, really big if you think about it in the context of the huge number of people who have had COVID-19 in the United States, and also globally,” Dr. Al-Aly said.
Compared with the contemporary control group, people who had COVID-19 had an increased risk (hazard ratio [HR]) and burden per 1,000 people at 1 year for the following cardiovascular outcomes:
- Stroke: HR, 1.52; burden, 4.03
- Transient ischemic attack: HR, 1.49; burden, 1.84
- Dysrhythmias: HR, 1.69; burden, 19.86
- Ischemic heart disease: HR, 1.66; burden, 7.28
- Heart failure: HR, 1.72; burden, 11.61
- Nonischemic cardiomyopathy: HR, 1.62; burden 3.56
- Pulmonary embolism: HR, 2.93; burden, 5.47
- Deep vein thrombosis: HR, 2.09; burden, 4.18
- Pericarditis: HR, 1.85, burden, 0.98
- Myocarditis: HR, 5.38; burden, 0.31