Leagues' Study Shows Few Athletes Suffer Heart Issues Post-COVID-19

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A new study using data from the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, MLS and WNBA found that professional athletes rarely suffered heart issues following a COVID-19 positive test. 

According to a study in JAMA Cardiology, of the 789 professional athletes from the aforementioned leagues who tested positive for COVID-19 between May 2020 and October 2020, just five had developed cardiac issues, with no athletes having significant heart issues after being cleared to play. 

Though only 0.6% of athletes were found to have myocarditis (heart inflammation) or pericarditis (swelling of the tissue that surrounds the heart) those conditions were found in more than 7% of patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, according to a study in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association, published in March 2020.

“We did this because, at the beginning of [the pandemic], it was clear that people who were hospitalized with COVID did have a significant [incidence] of heart disease,” Gary Green, medical director for MLB and one of the study’s authors, told the Washington Post. “And we wanted to make sure athletes who got COVID were returning to their sport and were doing it in a safe manner … We wanted to see: is it safe for [athletes] to return, and what’s the risk? What we found is that the risk is very, very low.”

In a joint-statement published on behalf of the NBA, WNBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and MLS, the leagues said that as part of ongoing collaboration they each issued similar cardiac screening programs for athletes with prior COVID-19 infections. The programs were used to detect serious conditions resulting from the virus, and they also helped promote and athlete's safe return to play after an infection.

Medical professionals are still waiting for datasets being compiled by the Big Ten and the NCAA. An Ohio State University study this fall found that four out of 26 athletes had signs of myocarditis after contracting COVID-19. A University of Wisconsin study found just two cases out of 145 athletes.

The joint-leagues study did not provide insight on what might happen long-term for those who were diagnosed with heart inflammation. According to ESPN, results of two other forthcoming studies on possible COVID-19 cardiac links are expected to be published soon.

"The study additionally reflects the care provided by club medical and athletic training staffs who contributed to the study," the leagues said in a joint-statement."

"As with other lessons professional sports have learned about COVID-19, the results of this study are being shared broadly to contribute to the growing body of knowledge about the virus — a commitment we share with each other and our players for the benefit of society beyond sports."