COVID-19: What are the major cardiovascular issues?


Cardiac concern about hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine

Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is an antimalarial drug shown to have in vitro (but not yet in vivo) activity against diverse RNA viruses, including SARS-CoV-1.20 An expert consensus group from China suggests that chloroquine improved lung imaging and shortened disease course.21 HCQ was found to be more potent than chloroquine in inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 in vitro.22

Based on limited in vitro and anecdotal clinical data from other countries, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently authorized emergency use of chloroquine and HCQ in hopes of slowing the progression of the disease when a clinical trial is not available, or participation is not feasible for use of these drugs in hospitalized patients. However, with no clear benefit, there is a concern for possible risks with cardiac toxicity.

HCQ is known to cause cardiomyopathy in a dose-dependent manner over several years. Given the anticipated short duration in COVID-19, it is not an expected risk. QT-segment prolongation and torsades de pointes, especially if administered in combination with azithromycin, is possible even in short term use.23

Dr. Raman Palabindala, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson

Dr. Raman Palabindala

Given above, frequent ECG monitoring is indicated for patients being treated with chloroquine or HCQ. All other QT-prolonging drugs should be discontinued. Continuous telemetry monitoring while under treatment is reasonable. HCQ should not be started if baseline QTc is > 500 msec and it should be stopped if the patient develops ventricular arrhythmias.12

Dr. Subedi is a noninvasive cardiologist for Wellspan Health System in Franklin and Cumberland counties in south central Pennsylvania. He is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pa. He is an active member of the critical care committee at Wellspan Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital. Dr. Tirupathi is the medical director of Keystone Infectious Diseases/HIV in Chambersburg and currently chair of infection prevention at Wellspan Chambersburg and Waynesboro Hospitals, all in Pennsylvania. He also is the lead physician for antibiotic stewardship at these hospitals. Dr. Areti is currently working as a hospitalist at Wellspan Chambersburg Hospital and is a member of the Wellspan pharmacy and therapeutics committee. Dr. Palabindala is hospital medicine division chief at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson.

Key points

  • Acute cardiac injury or myocarditis is common among patients infected with COVID-19. Often, COVID myocarditis can mimic acute MI or stress cardiomyopathy and will present diagnostic and therapeutic challenges. On the other hand, isolated cardiac involvement can occur, even without symptoms and signs of interstitial pneumonia.
  • A most important indicator of worse prediction is the degree of myocardial injury, regardless of preexisting conditions or underlying cardiovascular disease.
  • Early recognition of cardiac involvement will be helpful in targeting more aggressive supportive therapies. Commonly available clinical tools like bloodwork, ECG, or echocardiogram should be adequate to diagnose carditis in most cases.
  • Advanced cardiac imaging tests or cardiac biopsy are of uncertain benefits. Meticulous evaluation is needed for possible ischemic changes before taking the patient to the cardiac cath lab in order to reduce unnecessary virus exposure to the operators.
  • ACEI/ARB should be continued in most cases in COVID patients based on cardiology societies’ recommendations.
  • With the widespread use of antimalarial drugs like chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, frequent ECG and continuous telemetry monitoring is reasonable to rule out ventricular arrhythmias like torsades.
  • There is no specific treatment to date for acute cardiac injuries. Since there are no specific guidelines and information about the virus is rapidly changing, it will be prudent to follow common-sense approaches outlined by institutions like the Brigham and Women’s Hospital COVID-19 Critical Care clinical guidelines, which incorporate new clinical information on a daily basis ().


1. Rothan HA and Byrareddy SN. The epidemiology and pathogenesis of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. J Autoimmun. 2020 May;109:102433. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2020.102433.

2. Kolata G. A heart attack? No, it was the coronavirus. New York Times 2020 Mar 27.

3. Guo T et al. Cardiovascular implications of fatal outcomes of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). JAMA Cardiol. 2020 Mar 27. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.1017.

4. Zhao X et al. Incidence, clinical characteristics and prognostic factor of patients with COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis. MedRxIV. 2020 Mar 20. doi: 10.1101/2020.03.17.20037572.

5. Ruan Q et al. Clinical predictors of mortality due to COVID-19 based on an analysis of data of 150 patients from Wuhan, China. Intensive Care Med. 2020 Mar 3. doi: 10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x.

6. Wu Z and McGoogan JM. Characteristics of and important lessons from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in China: Summary of a report of 72,314 cases from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. JAMA. 2020 Feb 24. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.2648.

7. Thygesen K et al. Fourth universal definition of myocardial infarction (2018). J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018 Oct;72:2231-64.

8. Zhou F et al. Clinical course and risk factors for mortality of adult inpatients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China: a retrospective cohort study. Lancet. 2020 Mar 28;395(10229):1054-62.

9. Wang D et al. Clinical characteristics of 138 hospitalized patients with 2019 novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia in Wuhan, China. JAMA. 2020 Feb 7. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.1585.

10. CDC: Therapeutic options for patients with COVID-19. Updated April 13, 2020.

11. Inciardi RM et al. Cardiac involvement in a patient with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). JAMA Cardiol. 2020 Mar 27. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.1096.

12. Brigham and Women’s Hospital COVID-19 Critical Care Clinical Guidelines.

13. American Society of Echocardiography Statement on COVID-19. 2020 Apr 1.

14. A cardiologist in Brooklyn infected with COVID-19. @jigneshpatelMD. 2020 Mar 20.

15. Paules CI et al. Coronavirus infections – more than just the common cold. JAMA. 2020 Jan 23. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.0757.

16. Zheng YY et al. COVID-19 and the cardiovascular system. Nat Rev Cardiol. 2020 May;17(5):259-60.

17. Gurwitz D. Angiotensin receptor blockers as tentative SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics. Drug Dev Res. 2020 Mar 4. doi: 10.1002/ddr.21656.

18. Henry C et al. Impact of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and statins on viral pneumonia. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2018 Oct 26;31(4):419-23.

19. HFSA/ACC/AHA statement addresses concerns re: Using RAAS antagonists in COVID-19. 2020 Mar 17.

20. Touret F and de Lamballerie X. Of chloroquine and COVID-19. Antiviral Res. 2020 May;177:104762. doi: 10.1016/j.antiviral.2020.104762.

21. Expert consensus on chloroquine phosphate for the treatment of novel coronavirus pneumonia. Chinese journal of tuberculosis and respiratory diseases. 2020 Mar 12;43(3):185-8.

22. Yao X et al. In vitro antiviral activity and projection of optimized dosing design of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Mar 9. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa237.

23. Devaux CA et al. New insights on the antiviral effects of chloroquine against coronavirus: What to expect for COVID-19? Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2020 Mar 12:105938. doi: 10.1016/j.ijantimicag.2020.105938.


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