Even mild cases of Covid-19 raised arterial stiffness in young adults, increasing long-term detrimental effects on cardiovascular health, according to a study, led by an international team of researchers. Arterial stiffness is a marker associated with the ageing and function of our arteries. It also refers to the reduced ability of arteries to expand and contract in response to changes in blood pressure and is linked with cardiovascular disease.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, revealed age and time from Covid infection is associated with increased ageing of the arteries. Researchers found that among people diagnosed with mild Covid, artery and central cardiovascular function were affected by the disease two to three months after infection. Side effects include stiffer and more dysfunctional arteries that could lead to cardiovascular disease development.
“We were surprised to observe such a decline in vascular health, which deteriorated even further with time since the Covid-19 infection. Usually, you`d expect inflammation to decrease with time after infection, and for all the physiological functions to go back to normal or a healthy level,” said co-author Dr Maria Perissiou from the University of Portsmouth in the UK.
“We can only speculate on what causes this phenomenon without further investigation, but emerging evidence suggests that it stems from Covid-19 triggering the auto-immune process that leads to vasculature deterioration,” she added.
While Covid-19 has been associated with a type of acute heart failure and vascular dysfunction, the long-term consequences of the disease on vascular health still need to be explored.
Participants in the study were monitored between October 2019 and April 2022. Arterial stiffness was measured in a group of healthy volunteers before the pandemic. These people were called back after a bout of mild Covid to make the same measurements.
Most were young, less than 40 years old, and healthy. Only 9 percent of the group had high blood pressure, and none had high cholesterol. Two were diabetic, and 78 percent did not smoke. The group was also almost an even split between males (56 percent) and females (44 percent).
“Given the number of people infected with Covid-19 worldwide, the fact that infection can have harmful effects on cardiovascular health in young people who had a mild form of the disease warrants close monitoring,” said lead author Professor Ana Jeroncic from the University of Split in Croatia.
“The question remains as to whether this harmful effect is irreversible or permanent, and if not, for how long it lasts,” Jeroncic said.
According to researchers, the study, while small, does support the prediction amongst vascular physiologists that Covid-19 infections will lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease in the future.
However, they recommended further research to strengthen the understanding of causes and contributing factors.