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Cardiologist explains risks of heart complications from COVID-19 in women

COVID-19 has been found to sometimes cause heart complications - even in perfectly healthy women who have otherwise recovered.

ATLANTA — Friday is National Wear Red Day, part of the American Heart Association's "Go Red for Women" campaign.

The campaign aims to raise awareness for women's risk for heart disease - which many may not realize is the No.1 cause of death for women.

Heart disease, in fact, claims a woman's life on average every 80 seconds. The American Heart Association says that 45% of women age 20 and older are living with some form of heart disease.

RELATED: Why do some people get seriously ill from COVID-19 while others feel no symptoms?

That takes on added importance this year, as COVID-19 has been found to sometimes cause heart complications - even in perfectly healthy women who have otherwise recovered.

11Alive Anchor Shiba Russell spoke with cardiologist Dr. Dave Montgomery about what women need to know about the potential heart risks women face from COVID:

  • Question: Is this just an issue for older women?

Answer: No it’s not, and that’s a surprising thing. The other statistic that’s really surprising is more than 250,000 women will die from heart disease, many of which should not die - we think that is about 85-90% preventable. So this is something that deserves our attention not just now, but every day of the year.

  • Question: What heart issues or long-term symptoms are you seeing with healthy women who have since recovered from COVID?

Answer: We’re getting a lot of people in my preventive cardiology practice saying, "I got diagnosed with COVID-19 in the summer or in the spring," and still today in February of 2021 they're having shortness of breath, chest pain – these are healthy women, these are people who had no problems before – they're having palpitations, their heart just races out of nowhere, when they stand up they're feeling faint or lightheaded, some women are actually fainting. 

And what we're finding is many of those women actually have some heart damage or some heart inflammation that’s left over in the wake of the COVID-19 fight in their immune system.

There was a study back in May and June that showed that even people who didn't have really severe COVID symptoms – we're talking about people who recovered at home – had signs of active heart inflammation and real heart damage.

  • Question: Higher blood pressure as well?

Answer: Yeah blood pressure's becoming a problem. We’re talking about young healthy women - no problems with blood pressure - coming in with higher blood pressure, higher heart rates, things that seem really, really bizarr.

And what we're finding is this virus just does not play by any sort of playbook. It really is attacking the heart. It first is a lung problem as we know - shortness of breath, coughing. It then becomes in many cases a heart problems as well. So we are asking women to go get screened for this.

  • Question: What are some of the signs women can look for to detect heart disease?

Answer: This is one of the things that every February, I take a bit of caution to not throw people off the scent. Now remember when we list the classic symptoms of heart disease, people know that still for women chest pain is still the commonest symptom - many women may not develop chest pain, they might just have profound fatigue out of nowhere, they might have nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, things like that.

But here’s what I say to women, because I don’t want to just name five things and then they develop something else and then misunderstand that symptom to be heart disease: I tell them U-P-S: Unusual, prolonged or severe. If you're experiencing anything form the top of your jaw to the pit of your stomach that is unusual, prolonged or severe, that deserves your undivided attention and the attention of your doctor.