DETROIT (January 14, 2022) – In a small study of college athletes who tested positive for COVID-19, researchers at Henry Ford Hospital have found they were at low risk of developing myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.
Researchers retrospectively evaluated cardiac MRI images of 39 athletes and said there was no evidence they developed the heart condition after a COVID infection between June 2020 and January 2021.
The findings were recently presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. While the findings have not yet been peer reviewed, they do mirror more recent research that has shown the risk of college athletes developing myocarditis from COVID infections ranges from 0 to 3 percent.
“If athletes have COVID-19 and develop mild or no symptoms and their initial cardiac testing is negative, it’s very unlikely they’ll have myocarditis,” said Neo Poyiadji, M.D., a fourth-year radiology resident at Henry Ford and the study’s lead author.
Dr. Poyiadji and his research colleagues urged caution, though, because the true incidence of COVID-19 related cardiovascular disease like myocarditis in college athletes, especially those who are asymptomatic or display mild symptoms, remains unclear. Further study is needed, Dr. Poyiadji said.
The athletes studied ranged in age from 18 to 23 years old and all but two were male. They represented a cross section of sports, but the majority played football. Each athlete underwent a cardiac MRI, an imaging test used to diagnose a broad range of heart abnormalities like congenital heart defects, tumors, defective valves and myocarditis. Cardiac MRI is performed using gadolinium contrast injected intravenously into the body to enhance the quality of the images being taken. The imaging scans were interpreted by cardiothoracic fellowship trained radiologists in collaboration with Henry Ford cardiologists.
Dr. Poyiadji emphasized that performing a cardiac MRI on every college athlete who tests positive for COVID is an unnecessary use of medical testing resources and we should limit their exposure to gadolinium. He only recommends cardiac MRI on those who have cardiac abnormalities on an echocardiogram, have persistent symptoms or heart rhythm problems despite initial negative testing.
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