Life as the world knew it was put on hold in the winter of 2019-20. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 that began in China soon spread across the globe, forcing many governments to hit the proverbial pause button.
As the world paused in the hopes of preventing the potentially deadly virus from spreading, professional and amateur athletic events were canceled or postponed. In March, the organizing body behind the 2020 Summer Olympics postponed the global sports competition until July 2021, while professional sports leagues, including the English Premier League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, all postponed their seasons. Those seasons eventually resumed in the late spring or summer of 2020, but fears concerning the health of athletes persisted in spite of the return to action.
One of the more notable concerns about competing in athletics during the pandemic is the potential connection between COVID-19 and the heart condition myocarditis.
According to Hackensack Meridian Health, two studies published in the journal JAMA Cardiology revealed that patients who have recovered from COVID-19 may show signs of heart damage. That damage may be present weeks or even months after recovery. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who began the shortened MLB season on the injured list after testing positive for COVID-19, ultimately decided to sit out the entire season after being diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can have long-term consequences.
Concerns about myocarditis was behind some of the fear associated with playing the 2020 college football season. In mid-August, Brian Hainline, MD, the chief medical officer of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, acknowledged he was aware of a dozen cases of myocarditis among NCAA athletes. Concerns about myocarditis were a factor in the decision by the Big 10 and Pac 12 conferences to postpone the start of their 2020 seasons in August.
It’s important to note that many viral infections can cause myocarditis, and researchers point out that mild cases of heart inflammation can get better on their own. However, it’s vital that athletes and their families recognize the potential threat posed by myocarditis and other potential heart-related side effects of COVID-19. For example, Hackensack Meridian Health Notes that COVID-19 can make existing heart conditions worse. In addition, the Mayo Clinic notes that severe myocarditis can lead to heart failure, heart attack or stroke, rapid or abnormal heart rhythms, and even sudden cardiac death.
Athletes face difficult decisions regarding whether or not to return to competition during the pandemic. Understanding the potential dangers of doing so, including the risk for myocarditis, can help athletes make the most informed decisions possible.