What looks like a heart attack can really be the coronavirus—a new twist doctors are navigating as patients flow into hospitals around the world, the New York Times reports. A Brooklyn patient, for example, had a troubling heart rhythm and signs of damaged heart muscle. Doctors moved to unblock the patient's arteries, but found no blockage. It was the coronavirus, and it was no fluke: A China study found that 20% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients showed signs of heart damage. "We were thinking lungs, lungs, lungs—with us in a supportive role," says a top officer at the American College of Cardiology. "Then all of a sudden we began to hear about potential direct impact on the heart."
Reasons are unclear, but the Brooklyn patient and another in Italy both had myocarditis, a kind of heart inflammation that's shown up in viral infections like H1N1 swine flu and MERS. Doctors say the body's immune system might be causing it by going too far in fighting the coronavirus, overproducing a chemical that causes inflammation. Or maybe lung infections caused by the virus are directly giving rise to heart problems. Either way, the heart is involved. "It is likely that even in the absence of previous heart disease, the heart muscle can be affected by coronavirus disease," an expert says in a press release, adding that "the risk is higher in those who already have heart disease." (Read more coronavirus stories.)