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Ravens’ doctor voices concerns over COVID-19 heart issue

Dr. Andrew Tucker worries the risk of myocarditis is concerning.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

From college to professional football players, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is not taken as seriously for that particular age group.

We think of the elderly as the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and football players are young enough to make a full recovery.

But Baltimore Ravens head physician Dr. Andrew Tucker says it is too early to say COVID-19 is entirely risk free.

“The risk is low,” he said in a conference call on Wednesday. “But how low is a little bit premature to say because we just don’t have the data. This hasn’t been going on that long.”

Even football players, Dr. Tucker warns, are at risk to suffer long-term side effects. If left untreated, players could suffer from myocarditis, which leads to cardiac arrest.

“Myocarditis is one of the rare causes of sudden cardiac arrest in our athletes and it is usually caused by a virus that causes inflammation in the heart. It is very rare, fortunately, but it can happen and it can happen theoretically with any virus, but certain viruses tend to make it more likely. Unfortunately, COVID has proven early on to be a virus that tends to involve the heart.”

According to the myocarditis foundation, “myocarditis is a disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle. This inflammation enlarges and weakens the heart, creates scar tissue and forces it to work harder to circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body.”

“We understand that people that are very sick with COVID have probably a significant percentage of risk for myocarditis,” Dr. Tucker said. “ What we are sorting through and gaining more knowledge about, is people who have just been exposed to the virus and have no symptoms or have minimal symptoms. We are learning every week whether any of those people have increased risk of heart troubles.”

Dr. Tucker says that tests conducted 10 days after a person contracts COVID-19 can uncover any cardiac risks. Or, at least, that’s what we know right now.

“Those are not part of the protocol right now. But as our knowledge base grows over time, it could change,” he said.

“From Day 1, the protocols have been very conservative with the heart. Certainly in the case of the NFL, and all the major leagues and colleges are sorting through these: What’s the right thing to do for athletes returning after potential COVID exposure?”