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Research led by Dr Mayooran Shanmuganathan has found that some patients hospitalized with acute COVID-19 show subtle inflammation or swelling of the heart muscle, but this appears to resolve over time, without any significant long-lasting impact on the heart’s function.

As part of the Oxford Acute Myocardial Infarction (OxAMI) study, the research team performed heart MRI scans from patients whilst they were in hospital with acute COVID-19, during the first and second waves of the pandemic, between May and November 2020. The team then performed another set of heart MRI scans six months after the patients were discharged from hospital.

When the researchers compared the scans with those from similarly aged participants without COVID-19, they found signs of increased water content in some of the COVID-19 patients’ hearts, which may be due to inflammation, swelling or increased blood flow to the heart muscle.  However, this increase in water signal had normalised by the time the patients came back six months later, when there were no significant differences between the patients who had COVID-19 and those who hadn’t had the illness at the time of scan.

”Our findings suggest that, in most cases, acute COVID-19 does not leave a negative impact on the heart in the short-term,” said Dr Shanmuganathan.  

Professor Vanessa Ferreira, co-senior study author, said “The study is unique in being the first to perform heart MRI scans in acutely-ill COVID-19 patients at a median of three days of their hospital admission. This fills in an important gap in the literature in studying the very acute cardiac changes in COVID-19, complimenting previous work done at Oxford Centre for Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research (OCMR).” OCMR researchers have previously led on the C-MORE study and have collaborated with other researchers across the UK on the COVID-HEART.

Professor Keith Channon, Principal Investigator of the OxAMI study, said “This study demonstrates the unique capabilities of the Acute Multidisciplinary Imaging and Interventional Centre (AMIIC) research facility, that is based on the close collaboration between University of Oxford researchers and NHS clinicians in Oxford University Hospitals, for the benefit of patients.”

Read the full paper.

The authors are grateful to the staff in the AMIIC (previously known as AVIC) and OCMR, participants of the study, and the funders, including the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, the British Heart Foundation, and Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford.