The Perfect Enemy | Study: Severely ill COVID patients at 16 times higher risk for abnormally rapid heartbeat
February 16, 2024

Study: Severely ill COVID patients at 16 times higher risk for abnormally rapid heartbeat

COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation are 16 times more likely than non-severely ill peers to experience ventricular tachycardia, data show.

EKG readout
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COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation are 16 times more likely than non-severely ill peers to experience ventricular tachycardia, an abnormal heart rhythm, within 6 months, according to a study presented at this week’s annual meeting of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) in Barcelona, Spain.

Ventricular tachycardia is a potentially fatal arrhythmia that occurs when the heart’s ventricle beats too fast to pump enough oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.

Karolinska Institute researchers in Sweden assessed the long-term risk of abnormal heart rhythms among 3,023 patients with severe COVID-19 released from an intensive care unit (ICU) and 28,463 non-severely ill controls from March 2020 to June 2021. The average participant age was 62 years, 70% were men, and the average follow-up was 9 months.

Higher rates of other heart arrhythmias

Among COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation, the rates of ventricular tachycardia, atrial fibrillation, other abnormally rapid heart rhythms, and bradycardia/pacemaker implantation were 15.4, 78.4, 99.3, and 8.5 per 1,000 person-years, respectively, compared with 0.9, 6.0, 6.7 and 0.9, respectively, among controls.

Atrial fibrillation is a rapid, irregular heart rate that can lead to shortness of breath and increase the risk of stroke, while bradycardia is an abnormally slow heart rate.

Relative to controls, severely ill COVID-19 patients were at a 16-fold higher risk of ventricular tachycardia, a 13-fold higher risk of atrial fibrillation, a 14-fold higher risk of other abnormally fast heart rhythms, and a 9-fold higher risk of bradycardia/pacemaker implantation.

Study author Marcus Stahlberg, MD, PhD, said COVID-19 patients who require mechanical ventilation often have other underlying medical conditions. “These patients should seek medical attention if they develop palpitations or irregular heartbeats after hospital discharge so they can be evaluated for possible arrhythmias,” he said.

Stahlberg said that abnormal heart rhythms after severe COVID-19 infection have been previously reported in most infected ICU patients. “Hospital systems should prepare for an increase in patients requiring management for new onset arrhythmias,” he said.