Kolling researchers identifying COVID-19 impact on heart health

The largest study of its type in Australia will investigate the impact of COVID-19 on younger patients with new trends emerging around the cardiac complications from the Delta strain of the virus.

Launched last year, the AUS-COVID trial assessed more than 640 patients in 21 hospitals across Australia, recording cardiovascular complications.

From this group, 125 were people were admitted to intensive care units, 70 required intubation and 92 patients died.

Initial study results indicate one in twenty five patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 developed atrial fibrillation or abnormal heart rhythm, and this occurred more frequently in those over 65, in 1 in 16 patients. Abnormal heart rhythm can lead to stroke and requires prompt treatment.

Kolling researcher Professor Ravinay Bhindi, and Head of the Cardiology Department at Royal North Shore Hospital, said the trial found that other concerning complications of COVID-19 such as heart failure and heart inflammation (myopericarditis) were not as common as expected, with one in fifty patients experiencing heart failure, and one person in one hundred suffering clinically significant heart inflammation.

“The initial results of the AUS-COVID study demonstrate that cardiac complications from COVID-19 while concerning are not as common as we initially feared they would be,” he said.

“The rates of complications were reassuringly lower than those published in other countries across Europe and North America.”

As the Delta strain of COVID-19 continues to spread in parts of Australia, researchers will now shift their focus towards assessing the cardiac complications of this highly-contagious strain.

“We are seeing initial reports of an increase in cardiac complications, including a rise in the number of younger patients experiencing significant cardiac events, such as myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart.

“These preliminary indications point to a concerning new trend for a group which has until now, largely escaped significant health complications from COVID-19.”

Professor Bhindi said the rising number of cases demonstrates the importance of the study to help inform clinicians around the likely outcomes and best models of care for these patients.

“As the largest registry of cardiac complications from COVID-19 in Australia, it will have a key role in improving health outcomes, and potentially saving lives.”

The initial results of the study are being published in the Medical Journal of Australia and Heart, Lung and Circulation.