How common are cardiac complications in Covid-19?

Although we often think of Covid-19 as a respiratory disease, cardiovascular complications are not uncommon.

Myocardial injury based on elevated cardiac troponin levels have been reported in ~20% of patients with Covid-19.1,2 Among deceased patients with Covid-19 without underlying cardiovascular disease, ~12.0% have been reported to have “substantial heart damage” based on elevated levels of troponins or cardiac arrest.1  

Arrythmias have also been reported in a significant number of patients (~20.0% in those on invasive mechanical ventilation). 3,4

Reports of Covid-19-associated acute onset heart failure, myocardial infarction, myocarditis and pericarditis have also appeared in the literature. 4-6

Proposed mechanisms of acute myocardial injury include direct binding of the virus to ACE2 receptors which are present not only in the lungs but also cardiac endothelial and smooth muscle cells of myocardial vessels as well as in cardiac myocytes. 1,7,8 Myocardial injury may also be a consequence of Covid-19-related cytokine storm or respiratory insufficiency.1

Interestingly, patient with heart failure have increased expression of ACE2 which may make them particularly vulnerable to myocardial injury and failure after Covid-19 infection. 8

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that a type of perivascular mural cell called “pericyte” makes up a significant part of the myocardium and—in contrast to relatively low expression of ACE2 in cardiac myocytes— expresses ACE2 at high levels, potentially serving as an important target for Covid-19 virus? 8

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  1. Zheng YY, Ma YT, Zhang JY, et al. Covid-19 and the cardiovascular system. Nature Rev 2020, May.
  2. Yang xz, Yu Y, Xu J, et al. Clinical course and outcomes of critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a single-centered, retrospective, observational study. Lancet Respir Med 2020, Feb 24.
  3. Goyal P, Choi JJ, Pinheiro LC, et al. Clinical characteristics of Covid-19 in New York City 2010. N Engl J Med 2020. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2010419
  4. Covid-19 clinical guidance for the cardiovascular care team. American College of cardiology 2020.
  5. Hu H, Ma F, Wei X, et al. Coronavirus fulminant myocarditis treated with glucocorticoid and human immunoglobulin. Eur Heart J 2020.
  6. Hua A, O’Gallaher KO, Sado D. Life-threatening cardiac tamponade complicating myo-pericarditis in Covid-19. Eur Heart J 2020.
  7. Gallager PE, Ferrario CM, Tallant EA. Regulation of ACE2 in cardiac myocytes and fibroblasts. Am J Physiol heart Circ Physiol 2008;295:H2373-9.
  8. Chen L, Li X, Chen M, et al. The ACE2 expression in human heart indicates new potential mechanism of heart injury among patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. Cardiovasc Res 2020, March 13.

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

How common are cardiac complications in Covid-19?

My patient just had a run of ventricular tachycardia (VT) at a rate of 120 beats/min lasting 18 seconds without any symptoms. Does this arrhythmia meet the criteria for nonsustained VT (NSVT) and what is its significance?

Although NSVT is often defined as 3 (sometimes 5) or more consecutive beats arising below the atrioventricular node with a heart rate >100 beats/min lasting <30 s, this definition is not universal. Other definitions of NSVT include >120 beats/min using a duration cutoff of 15 s,  or at times no strictly defined diagnostic criteria1.  

NSVT can be observed in a variety of individuals, ranging from apparently healthy people to those with significant heart disease.  Whether NSVT provokes sustained life-threatening arrhythmias or is merely a surrogate marker of a more severe underlying cardiac pathology is unclear in most clinical settings 1

Because our patient  meets the generally observed criteria for NSVT, we should exclude an underlying occult pathology responsible for the arrhythmia and, in the case of known cardiac disease,  risk-stratify the patient for appropriate management2.  

The prognostic significance of NSVT is heavily influenced by the type and severity of underlying heart disease.  Patients with NSVT in the setting of >24 h post-acute myocardial infarction and those with chronic ischemic heart disease with left ventricular ejection fraction <40%  have a less desirable prognosis2. The management of patients with NSVT is generally aimed at treating the underlying heart disease.


  1. Katritsis DG, Zareba W, Camm AJ. Nonsustained ventricular tachycardia. J Am Coll Cardiol 2012;60:1993-2004.
  2. Katritisis DG, Camm AJ. Nonsustained ventricular tachycardia: where do we stand? Eur Heart J 2004;25:1093-1099.
My patient just had a run of ventricular tachycardia (VT) at a rate of 120 beats/min lasting 18 seconds without any symptoms. Does this arrhythmia meet the criteria for nonsustained VT (NSVT) and what is its significance?

Which patients outside of ICU setting should be placed on telemetry monitoring in the hospital?

Telemetry monitoring should be used in patients at increased risk of arrhythmias during hospitalization (1). While the American Heart Association provides expert opinion on telemetry for a variety of cardiac conditions (1), a more recent review (2) makes suggestions for common cardiac and non-cardiac diagnoses based on arrhythmia risk.

Telemetry is recommended for patients admitted for implantable cardioverter- defibrillaor firing, second or third degree AV block, prolonged QT interval with ventricular arrhythmia, acute heart failure, acute cerebrovascular event,  acute coronary syndrome and massive blood transfusion.

Telemetry may be beneficial in syncope with arrhythmia as a suspected cause, gastrointestinal hemorrhage after endoscopy, atrial arrhythmias on rate or rhythm control therapy, electrolyte imbalance and subacute congestive heart failure.

Telemetry is not generally indicated in chest pain with normal EKG and cardiac markers, COPD exacerbation, PE if the patient is stable and on anticoagulation, and cases requiring minor blood transfusion. 



(1) Drew BJ, Califf RM, Funk M, et al. Practice standards for electrocardiographic monitoring in hospital settings: an American Heart Association scientific statement from the Councils on Cardiovascular Nursing, Clinical Cardiology, and Cardiovascular Disease in the Young: endorsed by the International Society of Computerized Electrocardiology and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Circulation 2004;110:2721–46. 

(2) Chen EH and Hollander JE. When do patients need admission to a telemetry bed? The Journal of Emergency Medicine 2007:33(1):53-60.

Contributed by Joome Suh, MD, Boston, MA

Which patients outside of ICU setting should be placed on telemetry monitoring in the hospital?