Reports have indicated that COVID-19 may cause heart damage in hospitalized patients with severe cases of the disease, but it’s unclear whether cardiac injury also occurs in infected patients who are asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms. This question is of particular concern for athletes because myocarditis–inflammation in the heart usually caused by viral infection–can cause sudden cardiac death during exercise. In a special report published in JAMA Cardiology, a group led by sports cardiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Emory University School of Medicine offers guidance for athletes’ return to play after they have recovered from COVID-19.
The researchers observed that athletes infected with COVID-19 who experienced no or mild symptoms did not exhibit signs of heart injury. For such athletes, they do not recommend detailed cardiac screening. The prevalence of cardiac injury in athletes who were infected with COVID-19 is still unknown, however, and the team believes it’s prudent to screen for heart damage in athletes with moderate to severe symptoms. The experts also note that despite recent small studies showing that cardiac magnetic resonance imaging has detected potential cardiac abnormalities in individuals who have recovered from COVID-19, they feel that current evidence doesn’t justify its use as a universal screening tool for athletes’ return to play.