• Those who contracted COVID-19 had higher CVD, mortality risks compared to the uninfected
  • The likelihood of dying was 81 times higher in the first three weeks
  • The findings show the need for continuous monitoring well beyond the infection period

Just how far-reaching are the potential impacts of COVID-19? Those who got infected may have heightened risks for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death even as far as 18 months after the infection.

In a study published Thursday in the European Society of Cardiology's (ESC) journal Cardiovascular Research, researchers looked at the short- and long-term risks for mortality and developing cardiovascular disease in COVID-19 patients.

"Interestingly, clinical reports found that severe cardiac complications were evident even in healthy individuals such as high-performance athletes, and in those exhibiting asymptomatic/mild COVID-19 symptoms after infection, highlighting the need to evaluate the overall long-COVID-associated cardiovascular risks in the general population through comparison of infected vs. uninfected individuals," the researchers wrote.

To shed light on the matter, the study looked at the occurrence of cardiovascular conditions and death in those who were and weren't infected with COVID-19. In particular, they looked at the data of people recruited in the U.K. Biobank prior to December 2020, when the vaccines weren't available yet in the U.K.

For 18 months, the researchers followed up with a cohort of people who got infected with COVID-19 from March 16, 2020, to Nov. 30, 2020.

Each of the more than 7,000 patients was matched with up to 10 people from two cohorts: one of those who didn't get COVID-19 during the same period (the contemporary cohort), and a "historical cohort" of people from the same March-to-November period but from 2018, before the pandemic.

"The historical control cohort was included to rule out the effect of routine healthcare services being reduced or cancelled during the pandemic, which led to worsening health and increased mortality even in uninfected people," one of the study authors, Ian C.K. Wong of the University of Hong Kong, China, explained as per the ESC release.

The researchers found that compared to the people who didn't get COVID-19, the patients had a whopping 81 times higher likelihood of dying during the first three weeks of the infection (acute phase). Even 18 months later, the risk was still five times higher.

They also found that those who got infected were more likely to develop major cardiovascular disease in both the short and long term. Compared to both uninfected cohorts, they were about four times more likely to develop a major cardiovascular disease during the acute phase, and about 40% more likely during the post-acute phase.

It is possible, said Wong, that the patients' higher likelihood to develop cardiovascular conditions may have contributed to their increased likelihood of dying.

Those with severe COVID-19 also had higher risks for both CVD and mortality compared to those who had non-severe cases, though even those who did not have a non-severe condition also had heightened risks compared to the uninfected, the researchers noted.

"Altogether, these findings suggest that continuous monitoring for signs and symptoms of CVD and related cardiovascular complications in COVID-19 patients post infection and up till at least a year post recovery, especially in those with severe disease, may be beneficial in potentially reducing COVID-19-associated cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in the short- and long-term," the researchers wrote.

The study adds to the growing knowledge about the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 even months after recovery, the researchers said, recommending further studies, for instance adding information on the subsequent waves of the pandemic — since the data they looked at was from the first one — as well as adding a cohort of patients who were already vaccinated.

A man wearing a face mask to prevent contracting COVID-19 looks on at the empty runway of the Incheon International Airport, in Incheon