Why more college, pro athletes with coronavirus are required to have heart screenings

There is a rising concern that athletes who become infected with the new coronavirus may suffer from long-term cardiac issues, and sports organizations are responding with required heart screenings, USA Today reports.

Recent research has shown that COVID-19 infections may cause inflammation in the heart for months. A study published in JAMA Cardiology at the end of June examined cardiac magnetic resonance images from 100 COVID-19 patients in Germany. Seventy-eight of the patients had abnormal cardiac MRIs, and 60 showed signs of ongoing myocardial inflammation.

At an Aug. 13 media briefing, Brian Hainline, MD, CMO of the NCAA, said that of the athletes at NCAA institutions who have tested positive for COVID-19, at least 12 were later found to have myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. Eduardo Rodriguez, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, developed myocarditis after contracting COVID-19 earlier this year. He will not pitch in the 2020 baseball season.

“We know that if you exercise when you have active inflammation or a cardiac injury, that is a known cause of sudden death; we have to screen for this,” Matthew Martinez, MD, consulting cardiologist for the NBA Players Association, told USA Today.

Thus, health experts are urging cardiac screenings for athletes who contract COVID-19. Both the NBA and NFL now require a cardiac screening for all players who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The NHL has implemented heart-related measures in its protocols governing athletes returning to play. These include requiring athletes to undergo an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram and a high-sensitivity test for troponins.

Major League Baseball says that a cardiac evaluation can be conducted “at the discretion of the team physician” for coronavirus-positive athletes.

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