New research published in Experimental physiology highlights the possible long-term health effects of COVID-19 on young and relatively healthy adults who were not hospitalized and who had only minor symptoms from the virus.
An increase in the stiffness of the arteries in particular has been observed in young adults, which may impact heart health and may also be important for other populations who may have had severe cases of the virus. This means that healthy young adults with mild symptoms of COVID-19 may increase their risk of cardiovascular complications which may persist for some time after infection with COVID-19.
While SARS-CoV-2, the virus known to be the cause of the COIVD-19 pandemic, is primarily characterized by respiratory symptoms, other studies have recently shown changes in the function of blood vessels in young adults 3-4 weeks after becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 (Ratchford et al., 2021).
This has also been observed months after infection in the elderly (Riou et al. J Clin Med. 2021).
The Appalachian State University research team found that the virus could have harmful effects on arteries all over the body, including the carotid artery which supplies the brain with blood.
This compares SARS-CoV-2 and other acute bacterial and viral infections that alter arterial stiffness like rheumatic fever, Kawasaki disease, pneumonia, H. Pylori, and lupus, all of which can persist for a long time. after symptoms resolve.
Researchers tested young adults 3-4 weeks after becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2. They used an ultrasound on the carotid artery and took recordings of this image for 10 to 15 heart beats.
These recordings were analyzed on computer software to find measures of carotid stiffness. For the control group, they used data from healthy young adults who were studied before the COVID-19 pandemic.
As for the limitations of this study, researchers are uncertain whether the SARS-CoV-2 group had innate decreases in arterial stiffness before contracting the virus.
They also did not control the menstrual cycle or variations in contraceptive use in either group. However, previous research has indicated that contraceptive use and menstrual cycle fluctuations in healthy young women may not influence the outcome measures they are studying.
Researchers follow these young adults for 6 months after the initial infection with SARS-CoV-2 to see if and when the arterial health of these individuals improves.
The results of the longitudinal study will be interesting, as the symptoms of these adults may improve, but their arterial health may not recover as quickly, which may be important for their heart health.
Further investigations should aim to study a more diverse patient population over time, particularly older adults who are more susceptible to the virus and who may have underlying conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and l ‘hypertension.
Dr Steve Ratchford, lead author of the article, said: “These results suggest a potential long-term impact of COVID-19 on relatively healthy young adults who might otherwise think the virus is not affecting them. . “
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