Heart Defects Linked to Higher Risk of Severe COVID-19 Illness, Study Results Show


These individuals, who were also more likely to require treatment in the intensive care unit, should get their vaccines and booster shots, investigators say.

Individuals with congenital heart defects who were hospitalized with COVID-19 infections were at higher risk for severe illness or death than those without heart defects, according to study results published by Circulation, the American heart Association’s journal.

Individuals with congenital heart defects who contracted COVID-19 infections were also more likely to need ventilators or require treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU), study results showed.

Those at the highest risk of the most severe COVID-19 infections were individuals who had heart defects in addition to another heart condition, being aged 50 years or older, or being men, the study showed.

Investigators examined data on individuals who were hospitalized with COVID-19 between March 2020 and January 2021, which was collected by the Premier Healthcare Database Special COVID-19 Release, a database representing approximately 20% of all United States hospitalizations.

Individuals with and without heart defects received care in the same hospitals, and investigators accounted for differences in age, ethnicity, health insurance type, race, and sex, as well as other high-risk conditions, including diabetes, Down syndrome, heart failure, obesity, and pulmonary hypertension.

During the study period, 235,638 individuals between aged 1 and 64years were hospitalized for COVID-19 and included in the study. Investigators divided the individuals into those who had congenital heart defects and those who did not.

In the 2 groups, investigators then determined how many individuals required admission to the ICU, needed a ventilator to help with breathing, or died. They also reviewed other characteristics, including other health conditions.

Of the individuals in the study, 421 had congenital heart defects.

Investigators found that among those with heart defects, approximately 73% were older than age 30 years, 61% were male, 55% were non-Hispanic white, 19% were Hispanic, and 16% were non-Hispanic Black.

Overall, approximately 68% of individuals with heart defects had at least 1 other health condition, compared with approximately 59% of those without congenital heart defects.

Additionally, approximately 54% of individuals with congenital heart defects were admitted to ICUs compared with 43% without.

Investigators also found that approximately 24% of individuals with congenital heart defects required ventilators compared with 15% without.

Approximately 11% of individuals with congenital heart defects died during hospitalization compared with 7% of those without.

Furthermore, investigators noted that individuals with congenital heart defects consistently remained at high risk for severe COVID-19 infection, even when divided into categories by age or other health conditions in the study.

“People with heart defects should be encouraged to receive the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters and to continue to practice additional preventive measures for COVID-19, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing. People with heart defects should also consult with their health care teams about additional steps to manage personal risks related to COVID-19, given the significantly increased risk of severe infection and serious complications,” Karrie Downing, MPH, an epidemiologist at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities and the COVID-19 Response Team at the CDC, said in a statement.

A limitation of the study was that only individuals who were hospitalized with COVID-19 were included in the study, so clinical details about the underlying heart defects were not available.

Laboratory testing of COVID-19 also varied by hospital, and vaccination status was not considered in the study.


People with heart defects may be at greater risk for severe COVID-19 illness. EurekAlert. News release. March 7, 2022. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/945163

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