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Study: Athletes With COVID Rarely Develop Heart Issues

Jason Scott

A study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation found “a low prevalence of cardiac involvement and a low risk of clinical events in short term follow-up” among collegiate student-athletes who had tested positive for COVID-19.

The study sampled more than 3,000 student-athletes who had tested positive for COVID-19. Those sampled underwent additional screenings for cardiac issues. Among those, 21 — or 0.7 percent — showed definite, probable or possible cardiac issues related to their infection with the virus.

ESPN reports that the results could help colleges narrow testing protocols for cardiac issues as student-athletes return to sport.

"The bigger message is for the athletes who only have mild symptoms or no symptoms, it's not clear you need to do any testing at all," Dr. Jonathan Drezner, a co-lead investigator on the study told ESPN. "And I would be comfortable simply doing a good review of symptoms and making sure when they get back to play, they feel well."

The latest study, coupled with the results of a study released last month that sampled professional athletes, provided relief to medical experts who had been concerned about conditions such as myocarditis in the wake of earlier, smaller-scale studies. One such study, which sampled about two dozen student-athletes at Ohio State, found much higher rates of post-COVID myocarditis. 

Drezner told ESPN that cardiac MRIs may only be necessary in specific circumstances following a COVID-19 diagnosis, including in cases where the student-athlete develops moderate symptoms such as "fever, body aches, laid up in bed," or if they display cardiopulmonary symptoms; an abnormality on any of the so-called triad tests, which include an electrocardiogram, a blood test for troponin protein and an echocardiogram; or if they show cardiopulmonary issues after returning to play.

"If you look around the nation, there's 8 million high school athletes with maybe an infection rate of 10 percent, Drezner told ESPN. “College probably an infection rate of 20 percent. And we're just not hearing about these adverse events. That's also indirectly sort of reassuring."

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