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Big Ten Reverses Football Season Delay, Despite This Study Showing Athletes’ COVID-Related Heart Damage

September 16, 2020

For some athletes, COVID-19 isn’t over even when it’s over. A study of Ohio State University athletes has found that 30 percent showed signs of heart inflammation even after recovering from the virus.

It’s the latest example of this heart condition, myocarditis, associated with COVID-19 in patients with no history of heart disease. Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez missed the abbreviated Major League Baseball season after being diagnosed with myocarditis following a positive COVID-19 test. Myocarditis weakens the heart, leaving scar tissue that makes it more difficult to deliver blood and oxygen to the body.

The study, conducted by doctors at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and reported Sept. 11 in JAMA Cardiology, evaluated 26 football, basketball, soccer, track and lacrosse athletes using cardiac magnetic resonance tests. All had recovered from COVID-19 without requiring hospitalization or specific treatments. Four, or 15 percent, showed signs of myocarditis. Eight others, or 31 percent, showed signs of prior myocardial injury.

Data from China, published in JAMA Cardiology in March, indicated up to 20 percent of COVID-19 patients experience cardiovascular complications caused by the coronavirus. A more recent study of 100 patients in Germany found 60 percent had myocarditis after their COVID-19 diagnosis.

“We’re not sure yet if it is a direct attack of the virus to the heart or if this is just a reflection of systemic inflammation and multisystem failure,” said Dr. Heather Swales, director of the Women’s Heart Wellness Program at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. “But it can happen to anyone.”

The Big Ten Conference, which includes Ohio State, postponed its football season until next spring — in part because of concern about players who developed myocarditis after getting COVID-19 — before reversing the decision Sept. 16 with an announcement of an eight-game season beginning Oct. 24.

For more information on myocarditis from the Hartford HealthCare Heart & Vascular Institute, click here.