The first specialist clinic in Australia to study the impact of COVID-19 on the heart is opening at The Alfred.
While some international evidence suggests the infectious virus can leave behind cardiac scarring, cardiologists and respiratory physicians are working together to explore whether unexplained breathlessness may be the first sign of trouble.
The Alfred’s director of cardiology Professor David Kaye, and cardiologist Dr Shane Nanayakkara, have spent years studying pressure levels inside the hearts of patients as part of research into a condition known as heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).
In HFpEF, the heart muscle becomes stiff and doesn’t fill properly, leading to increased pressure and shortness of breath. Together with respiratory physician Professor Trevor Williams, Professor Kaye and his team are looking for the same signs of damage in those who have had COVID-19.
“While the international evidence has been mixed, it’s possible that some patients sustain cardiac damage from COVID-19 infection,” Prof Kaye said.
“Similar to HFpEF, one of the ways of we can measure changes in the heart is to perform catheter testing during exercise.”
After inserting a slim catheter into the body via a patient’s arm, they are asked to lie on a bed that has bike pedals attached. Dr Nanayakkara said the team then observes the pressures inside the heart as the patient exercises.
“If the pressures go up abnormally, that’s a warning sign, and then we can explore further and, hopefully, offer treatment,” Dr Nanayakkara said.
“We still have a lot to learn about the mark COVID can leave on the heart, but we encourage anyone who experiences unexplained and prolonged breathlessness after the virus to ask their GP for a referral to come and see us in the Heart Centre at The Alfred.”