May 28, 2021 - Health

Small number of Big Ten athletes had myocarditis after COVID-19

Illustration of a Coronavirus cell in the shape of a heart symbol.
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Only about 2% of college athletes who recovered from COVID-19 were later diagnosed with myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, according to a new study published Thursday in JAMA Cardiology.

Why it matters: The study, with some of the most comprehensive data yet on the cardiac condition connected to COVID-19, reveals its prevalence is less than previously recorded.

  • Exercising with myocarditis can increase the risk of cardiac arrest and sudden death among athletes and young people.

The big picture: The complication and its unknown long-term effects contributed to Big Ten and other intercollegiate conferences' postponed seasons last fall.

  • The incidence of sudden cardiac death in college athletes has been estimated at one per 50,000 per year.

Details: Close to 40 of the 1,597 athletes who tested positive for the virus and had a cardiac evaluation were found to have clinical myocarditis or subclinical myocarditis, the study shows.

  • Nine athletes were symptomatic, with most experiencing chest pain and some with heart palpitations.
  • The study found MRIs were much more effective at detecting inflammation of the heart than symptom-based testing.

Be smart: People who had COVID-19 and no initial symptoms of chest pain or palpitations can partake in physical activity as long as they "take it more slowly," Curt Daniels, a cardiologist and professor at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center who led a team of 30 researchers on the study, tells Axios.

  • "We do think exercise is safe after COVID," he said. "You should slowly increase your activity in exercise and make sure you don’t have symptoms as you go back."
  • One factor researchers are still uncertain of is the length of time someone who develops myocarditis needs to recover, Daniels said.

The study also exposed an overall COVID-19 positivity rate of about 30% among Big Ten schools’ athletes. Rates varied by school from 13% at one to nearly 50% at another.

  • From last March to December, 13 Big Ten schools participated in the study, which showed 2,810 athletes tested positive for COVID-19.

Separately, another study released earlier this month showed college athletes that recovered from heart abnormalities after testing positive for COVID-19 had no heart damage or inflammation.

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