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COVID-19 Appears to Have No Lasting Impact on College Athletes' Hearts

MONDAY, May 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Heart complications are rare among college athletes who have had COVID-19, according to a small study.

"Our findings may offer reassurance to high school athletes, coaches and parents where resources for testing can be limited," said senior author Dr. Ranjit Philip, assistant professor in pediatric cardiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, in Memphis.

For the study, Philip and his colleagues looked at 137 athletes (68% male) in 11 college sports who were referred for heart screening before returning to play after contracting COVID-19.

On average, the athletes were evaluated 16 days after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Most (82%) had COVID-19 symptoms, but they were mild for the majority (68%). None required treatment or hospitalization, the researchers said.

The most common symptoms were loss of smell/taste (58%), fever (less than 2 days, 42%), headache (41%) and fatigue (40%). Less often reported were shortness of breath (12%) and chest pain/tightness (11%).

Black and Hispanic athletes were more likely to have symptoms than white athletes (86% and 100% versus 75%, respectively), the study found.

No differences in symptoms or severity were found based on gender or sport.

Five athletes (4%) showed heart abnormalities on initial screening tests. Further screening of those athletes with heart MRI found no heart damage or inflammation.

After recovering from COVID-19, all athletes resumed full training and competition without any complications, according to the report published May 10 in the journal Circulation.

Athletes' concerns about heart damage, especially inflammation, led to recommendations for cardiac screening based on symptom severity before affected players resume training and competition, the study authors noted in a journal news release.

The preferred diagnostic test for heart inflammation is an MRI, but the American College of Cardiology's Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council does not recommend cardiac MRI as an initial screening test based on COVID-19 symptoms alone.

That led the study authors to investigate if symptom severity was associated with heart inflammation or poor recovery after COVID-19.

Study co-author Dr. Benjamin Hendrickson, assistant professor of pediatrics (cardiology) at the Health Science Center, said, "We were encouraged to find so few abnormal tests in these athletes as well as negative cardiac MRIs in those who did have an abnormal test during the initial screening, and no athlete had any problems after returning to exercise and sport."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 and sports.

SOURCE: Circulation, news release, May 10, 2021

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