Over the past year, we have all been personally affected by the novel COVID-19 pandemic. As vaccines are rolling out, we are hopeful that we will control the spread of the virus and return to our usual way of life slowly and safely. One of the many residual effects that we have seen in individuals following infection of COVID-19 is the potential for lasting heart and lung symptoms extending beyond the acute symptoms that the patient experiences. COVID-19 affects individuals with severe acute symptoms and those with mild symptoms during the acute stage of infection.
There have been several studies over the last year that have identified cardiac abnormalities of post–COVID-19 infected individuals. These abnormalities are in the form of increased troponin (a marker of heart muscle injury), fluid, or inflammation on the heart seen during a cardiac magnetic resonance image, or less efficient pumping of the heart. It is still too early to know what is causing these abnormal findings. Still, this is something patients infected with COVID-19 may be experiencing for weeks or months following their initial infection, regardless of how sick they initially felt.
Patients that continue to have symptoms after infection of COVID-19 for more than 12 weeks (about 3 months) and not explained by an alternative diagnosis are known to have Post-COVID-19 syndrome. This syndrome can present as a variety of symptoms that can fluctuate and change over time.
As these patients are attempting to return to their previous quality of life, a physical therapist can monitor vital signs and safely return them to full function. A physical therapist knows when an individual is ready to start light exercise. By monitoring oxygen saturation and heart rate, we can safely progress everyone to reach their specific goals.
Using skilled movement, progressive cardiovascular challenges, and strengthening principles in the physical therapy setting, we can be a crucial part in returning patients to pre- COVID functional status. At Makovicka Physical Therapy, we have researched the current evidence on how to successfully evaluate and treat patients with Post-COVID 19 syndrome and are set up to assist our patients dealing with cardiovascular complications to get back to an improved quality of life.
As an important reminder, regular cardiovascular and strength-based exercise helps build our immune system to fight viruses that we encounter and reduce symptoms of infection. A physical therapist can be an excellent option to help you reach your fitness and health–related goals in a highly skilled and safe environment.
Pelinski da Silveira, M. Kamila da Silva Fagundes, K. Bitzuti MR. Starck E. Rossi RC. Tavares de Resende e Silva D. Physical exercise as a tool to help the immune system against COVID-19: an integrative review of the current literature. Clin Exp Med. 2020. Jul 29: 1-14.
COVID-19 rapid guideline: managing the long-term effects of COVID-19 NICE guideline Published: 18 December 2020 www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng188.