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Heart inflammation is latest risk for athletes

Posted at 6:03 PM, Sep 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 19:03:06-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — While there is lots of excitement over sports coming back, concern has been raised after some Big Ten athletes showed signs of a condition that affects your heart.

“Myocarditis is essentially a pathologic diagnosis of inflammation of the of the heart,” said Dr. Dan Anderson, Chief of Cardiovascular Medicine at UNMC.

A recent trend of myocarditis is something medical experts are keeping an eye on after some college football players tested positive for COVID-19. MRI scans of their chest later showed signs of that condition.

“It has the potential to progress to scarring and fibrosis, which leads to heart failure and rhythm problems down the road,” said Anderson.

One worry Dr. Anderson has are those who’ve had COVID-19 and have myocarditis and didn’t even know they had the virus.

“There may be myocardial damage, and you don’t even know you had the infection, and you didn’t even have any symptoms, and does that put you at risk, we don’t know,” said Anderson.

So what does this mean for athletes? Dr. Ross Mathiasen, who specializes in Sports Medicine at Nebraska Med, says it’s a case by case basis.

“As long as the student-athletes, as long as the coaches, the parents, administrators, as long as they know this, they can make that decision to go ahead and if their risk tolerance is at that level,” said Mathiasen.

If athletes test positive for the virus, they must pay attention to how they feel once they train or play again.

“If there is a change in your exercise tolerance, if you’re short of breath if you wouldn’t have been short of breath before, if you’re having abnormal chest pains, any of those sorts of things are red flags to go and get some more evaluation,” said Mathiasen.

Anderson says in an optimal world, an athlete who tests positive for the virus should stop exercise for at least 90 days, which can put those who take the field or court in a tough spot.

“When we have damage myocardium either because of a heart attack or myocarditis, we often think it takes 90 days to heal and recover to the point where you’re back to a new baseline so that’s a difficult window because some would say that’s almost the entire football season,” said Anderson.

Both doctors agree the best way to prevent myocarditis is to take steps to prevent yourself from getting COVID-19 by social distancing and wearing masks.