COVID-19: What are the major cardiovascular issues?


Management of acute cardiac issues in COVID-19

There are no established therapeutic options with randomized, clinical trials specific to the management of COVID-19 patients at this point. Standard supportive care and individualized treatment plan based on existing guidelines is probably the best approach. Disposition of cases and cardiac testing should be tailored, based on local protocols, availability of resources and expertise.10

Dr. Raghavendra Tirupathi

There seems to be a consensus that baseline troponin levels should be obtained in all admitted patients. Repeat troponin levels can be obtained based on the severity of illness, for example, daily troponin checks are reasonable in ICU patients and every-other-day troponin testing may be reasonable in general inpatients. Routine troponin testing in minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic patients will likely not change any outcome.3,11,12

Daily ECG is reasonable in severe COVID-19. However, routine transthoracic ECGs are not reasonable, unless it will change further treatment plans. Transthoracic electrocardiograms (TTE) are reasonable in patients with significant troponin elevation, a decline in central venous oxygen saturation, new heart failure, shock, new persistent arrhythmias, or significant new ECG changes.12

Limited TTEs for a focused exam enough to answer the clinical question should be ordered to minimize the risk of viral exposure to the sonographers. Transesophageal echo will rarely be needed, and its use should be minimized to reduce direct contact exposure and because of anesthesia risks.13 Routine stress testing should not be ordered in active COVID-19 and should be deferred for outpatient evaluation, if clinically indicated, once the patient recovers from the infection.12

Myocarditis and pericarditis are potential manifestations of acute cardiac injury. Recent case reports have suggested evidence of myocarditis confirmed with cardiac MRI.11 Because of high fatality rates with cardiac involvement and no proven therapies yet, the role of routine advanced cardiac imaging such as cardiac CT, cardiac MRI, or cardiac biopsy is unclear.

Myocarditis can likely be caused either by the virus itself, or the body’s immune and inflammatory response (cytokine storm) to the virus.2,3 The use of anti-inflammatory drugs like colchicine, ibuprofen, steroids, or statins is not yet established.10,12 Drugs like remdesivir, lopinavir-ritonavir, hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and anti-interleukin-6 agents have been invariably used with some anecdotal success and randomized clinical trials for some of these drugs are presently undergoing.

Physicians may encounter situations to call a STEMI code or not in COVID-19 patients.2,11 Patients may have substernal pain, diffuse or regional ST elevations in ECG and reduced left ventricular dysfunction with regional wall motion abnormalities on ECG. These findings may be casued by myocarditis, acute type 1 MI, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Clinicians should make their judgment based on the overall pretest probability for type 1 MI, incorporating risk factor profiles and the presence of typical symptoms.

Treatment practice for questionable STEMI cases will likely vary across the country as we are learning more about the virus. Cath lab operators are at risk for COVID-19 infection through direct contact with patients. Few cardiologists were admitted after COVID-19 infections in the ICU at a New York hospital after they were involved in a acute MI case in a cath lab.14 Based on the Chinese experience, some have suggested the idea of lytic therapy first with follow-up cardiac CT to assess the recanalization of perfusion status, but at this point, this strategy remains controversial in the United States. In addition, if the patient has myocarditis instead, there will be a risk for pericardial effusion and hemorrhagic complications with lytic therapy.


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