Dr. Evelina Grayver considered herself an athlete. The 42-year-old cardiologist, who spent years working out daily, managed to stay COVID-free until January 2021. But since then, she has had difficulty doing things she normally would.
"I walked up one flight of stairs and had to sit down because I couldn't breathe," Grayver said.
Grayver, the director of Women's Heart Health at Northwell Health, is one of the hundreds of thousands now victims of what's known as long COVID — a syndrome that leaves people with physical or psychological health issues months after they have the virus. And about a quarter of the patients she sees are also coming in with post-COVID complications.
"I saw young people who never had issues with high blood pressure have it despite them doing the right things, eating low-sodium foods, and exercising," Grayver said.
Findings from a new study done by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that even a mild case of COVID-19 can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular problems for at least a year after diagnosis and it's not uncommon for young and healthy people who get COVID to suffer long-term heart problems either.
"Even in people whose disease was mild and in some cases asymptomatic, meaning they didn't have symptoms, even those people went to develop heart problems down the road," said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist and co-author of the study.
The study, which followed about 154,000 people with COVID-19, also found that heart failure and strokes were higher in people who recovered from COVID-19. Some pediatricians are also suggesting EKGs and echocardiograms on children post COVID.
"We've seen many kids with COVID pneumonia still struggling months later to get back to baseline," said Dr. Sharon Nachman of Stony Brook Children's Hospital.
While most people will make full recoveries, medical experts continue to learn about COVID each day and hope to study the long-term effects of the omicron variant.
"Just because you're young, fit, realize if something doesn't feel right, go see a doctor," Grayver said.