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Inflammatory Heart Disease After COVID-19 Rare in Athletes

MONDAY, March 8, 2021 -- Few cases of inflammatory heart disease have been detected among professional athletes who tested positive for COVID-19, according to a study published online March 4 in JAMA Cardiology.

Matthew W. Martinez, M.D., from Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, and colleagues examined the prevalence of detectable inflammatory heart disease in professional athletes with prior COVID-19 infection using current return-to-play (RTP) screening recommendations. RTP cardiac testing, including troponin testing, electrocardiography, and resting echocardiography, were performed between May and October 2020 on professional athletes who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Data were included for 789 professional athletes: 58.3 percent had prior symptomatic COVID-19 illness and 41.7 percent were asymptomatic or paucisymptomatic (minimally symptomatic). Cardiac testing was conducted at a mean of 19 days after a positive result. The researchers found that 30 athletes (3.8 percent) had abnormal screening results, necessitating additional testing. Ultimately, five athletes (0.6 percent) had cardiac magnetic resonance imaging findings that were indicative of inflammatory heart disease (three and two with myocarditis and pericarditis, respectively), resulting in restriction from play. In athletes who underwent cardiac screening and resumed professional sport participation, there were no adverse cardiac events reported.

"Longitudinal assessment of athletes with prior COVID-19 infection remains necessary to enhance our understanding of the short-term and potential long-term pathologic cardiac sequelae of COVID-19 infection," the authors write.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the sports industry.

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