COVID-19: What are the major cardiovascular issues?


Case examples

1. A 70-year-old male presents with fevers, chest pain, cough, shortness of breath. He has a history of metabolic syndrome and 30 pack-years of smoking. His ECG showed 1.5 mm ST elevation in inferior leads with reciprocal ST depressions in lateral leads, and his initial troponin is 2. Echocardiogram showed reduced left ventricle ejection fraction of 32% and inferior wall hypokinesis. He is suspected COVID-19 and his PCR result is pending. How would you manage this patient?

This patient presented with febrile illness and, but he had a very high pretest probability for obstructive coronary artery disease based on his age, male sex, and multiple risk factors. He may have a viral syndrome and it is a stressful situation for him. This may have precipitated plaque rupture causing acute MI.

Activating the STEMI pathway for emergent left heart catheterization is likely appropriate in this case. Coronary angiogram in this patient showed a 100% occluded mid-right coronary artery with a fresh thrombus. Delaying cardiac cath would have possibly led to malignant arrhythmias and death from ischemic injury. We need to be cognizant patients can die from non–COVID-related emergencies also.

2. An 18-year-old healthy male presents with cough and chest pain and has bilateral lung infiltrates. ECG showed anterolateral 2 mm ST elevations and no reciprocal ST changes. Stat TTE showed anterior wall hypokinesis and LV function 30% and his initial troponin are 0.6 (normal is < .05). The nasopharyngeal swab is sent out and his COVID result is pending. How would you manage this patient?

A young patient with no cardiovascular risk factors has a very low pretest probability for obstructive coronary disease and the likelihood of having a true ischemic MI is low even though he has significant new ST elevations. Especially with presumed COVID-19 and risk of virus exposure to the cath lab personnel, it will be prudent to manage this patient with supportive therapy including beta-blockers, ACEIs, etc. Repeat echo in 7 days before discharge showed improved LVEF 45%.

Controversy on ACEI/ARB

The SARS-CoV-2 virus enters via cell-entry receptor namely angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have a higher affinity for ACE2 than other SARS-viruses.15

ACE2 is expressed in the heart, lungs, vasculature, and kidneys. ACEI and ARBs in animal models increase the expression of ACE2,16 though this has not been confirmed in human studies. This has led to the hypothesis that ACEI and ARBs might worsen myocarditis or precipitate the acute coronary syndrome. It has also been hypothesized that the upregulation of ACE2 is therapeutic in COVID-19 and that ARBs might be protective during infection.17

The increased ACE2 expression induced by ACEI or ARB would aggravate lung injury of patients with COVID-19. However, a previous study showed a beneficial effect of ACEI/ARB in patients admitted with viral pneumonia, as it significantly reduced the pulmonary inflammatory response and cytokine release caused by virus infection.18

Therefore, this remains an area of investigation and it is unclear how these medications affect patients with COVID-19. In a recent review, with a limited number of patients, the mortality of those treated with or without the use of ACEI/ARB did not show a significant difference in the outcome.3

Both American and European cardiology societies recommend against routine discontinuation of ACEI and ARBs in patients with COVID-19 because of risks of uncontrolled hypertension and heart failure, stroke, or heart attack.19 However, it will be reasonable to hold off in inpatients in cases of acute kidney injury, hypotension, shock, etc.12


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