Coronavirus ward, Ichilov Hospital Tel Aviv
Coronavirus ward, Ichilov Hospital Tel AvivEitan Elhadez / TPS

A new study published this week (prior to peer review) provides further evidence regarding what is known as “long COVID” – the long-term health consequences of Covid-19 infection – based on an analysis of over six million people over around nine months during 2020 and 2021.

The study was led by Dr. Al-Aly, director of the Clinical Epidemiology Center at Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, and used the electronic healthcare databases of the US Department of Veteran Affairs for its data. In order to focus solely on “long COVID,” only those veterans who survived beyond 30 days of their coronavirus diagnosis were included in the study. In all, 151,195 veterans with a positive Covid-19 test between March 1, 2020, and January 15, 2021 were tracked, alongside 3,670,087 veterans without such a diagnosis (as well as 3,656,337 veterans who encountered the VA several years prior to the epidemic, as a historical control group).

Researchers identified a number of cardiovascular events to study and the results indicated that “risk and one-year burden of cardiovascular disease in survivors of acute Covid-19 are substantial.”

Specifically, survivors of COVID seemed to be at increased risk of suffering stroke, heart dysrhythmias, inflammatory heart disease, and various cardiovascular and other disorders including heart failure, cardiac arrest, embolisms and thrombosis.

The researchers noted that those who suffered from more severe cases of COVID during the acute phase also experienced more severe long COVID, although “the risk and burden of cardiovascular disease were evident even among those whose acute COVID-19 did not necessitate hospitalization.” They recommended that “care strategies of people who survived the acute episode of COVID-19 should include attention to cardiovascular health and disease.”

They added that “the mechanisms that underlie the association between COVID-19 and the development of cardiovascular diseases in the post-acute phase of the disease are not entirely clear,” positing a number of suggestions from a medical standpoint while also noting that “indirect effects including changes in the broader contextual environment, social (e.g. isolation, quarantine, reduced social contact and loneliness), economic (e.g. financial distress due to complete loss or reduced income), and behavioral conditions (e.g. changes in dietary habits and physical activity), lived experiences of trauma and grief (from pandemic related happenings) that may be differentially experienced by people with COVID-19 may also shape their cardiovascular outcomes.”