Classic Signs of Heart Attack Triggered by COVID-19

Human Heart Anatomy
Print icon

One of COVID-19’s mysteries is how it can cause heart attack-like symptoms in patients, leading researchers to believe the stress of the virus harms the muscle in atypical ways.

In a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team of New York University researchers detailed how the virus triggered classic signs of a heart attack on the electrocardiograms of 18 New York City patients with severe COVID-19. None of the patients, however, had the blocked artery that typically triggers a heart attack.

Ten percent of the patients – who averaged 63 years old – showed the elevated electrocardiogram reading indicative of heart attack at hospital admission, and the other eight while hospitalized. Additional testing showed that more than half had a heart attack not caused by artery blockage. Thirteen of them died.

The research team surmised that the underlying cause for some of the deaths was the physical and emotional stress caused by COVID-19. They added that the virus might injure the heart by rupturing plaque in blood vessels, lowering the body’s oxygen level, causing coronary spasms or floating tiny, undetected clots.

The situation is challenging to treat, since the usual approach would be to administer clot-busting drugs but the patients have no major blockages.

The study underscored a separate research article in the Journal of the American Medical Society Cardiology report, which was based on statistics from China, where the COVID-19 pandemic originated.

“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 the systemic inflammation and multisystem failure,” says Dr. Heather Swales, director of the Women’s Heart Wellness Center at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain. “But, it can happen to anyone.”

About 10 percent of people with preexisting cardiovascular disease who contract COVID-19 will die. Those with high blood pressure are also at increased risk. A percentage of the New York patients studied had high blood pressure while others had such chronic conditions as diabetes and high cholesterol.

Dr. Swales said it’s still unclear if these patients are dying because of heart disease or age.

“There’s a clear issue with lack of immunity,” she said. “As we get older, all of our immune systems decrease in function.”

Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading.

Need to see your doctor? New Patient? For more information about Hartford HealthCare virtual health visits, click here.

Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent care doctor.

Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily.

Questions? Call our 24-hour hotline (860.972.8100 or, toll-free, 833.621.0600). 

Get text alerts by texting 31996 with COVID19 in the message field.


What's New

Bliss Beam-Signing

Beam-Signing Marks Progress of Hartford Hospital Expansion

HARTFORD—With COVID-19 cases rising in other parts of the country and an increasing need for critical care beds in hotspots like Florida and Arizona, Hartford HealthCare marked a milestone July 10 that will help the health system be even more prepared for future outbreaks in Connecticut. Hartford HealthCare and Hartford...

Fecal transplant

COVID-19 Weight-Gain Assessment: BMI vs. Body Fat vs. Waistline

For three months, Connecticut gyms were closed and people spent more time inside their homes, with “quarantine baking” a popular pandemic pastime. Sales of candy, carbohydrate-rich foods and alcohol soared since stay-at-home orders were issued at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. While many people joke about putting on the...

Mobile Testing

Hartford HealthCare Hits 100,000 Tests, Highlighting Critical COVID-19 Tool

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages elsewhere in the country, Hartford HealthCare reached a milestone by hitting the 100,000-test mark, a feat officials say has helped keep Connecticut’s infection rate at less than 1 percent. “Testing is absolutely vital to containment,” said Hartford HealthCare President and CEO Jeff Flaks. “We will...

Dr. Linette Rosario

Millennial Doctor: Why Millennials Need a Primary Care Physician

What happens when millennials get their own health insurance plan? Unfortunately, not enough. They’re much less likely than Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979) to have a primary care physician. Dr. Linette Rosario is a primary care physician with the Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Bridgeport. She’s also a...

Frustrated woman worried about problem sitting on sofa with laptop

Fatigued From Bad News? 5 Ways to Tune Out

As responsible citizens, we like to watch the news, but the stress of pandemics, racism, protests that can spark looting or tear-gassing, and an ugly election season makes it a stressful experience. We turn the news on each evening or read it in papers, magazines or websites. Meanwhile, the feelings...

Connecticut College

Conn College Adding Health Services, Sports Medicine From Hartford HealthCare

There’s a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care location a few minutes off the Connecticut College campus in New London, but a new partnership brings high-quality, comprehensive healthcare even closer for students and faculty. Hartford HealthCare (HHC) and Connecticut College announced a partnership July 8 designed to enhance student health services and...