There has been a lot of focus on protecting young athletes’ physical and mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, but despite all the precautions, not everyone has been fortunate enough to avoid infection. And unfortunately, after recovering from COVID-19, people are at higher risk of myocarditis—inflammation of the heart often caused by a viral infection—and even asymptomatic, healthy young athletes are at risk.
“COVID-19 has an affinity for heart tissue,” explains Dr. Michele LaBotz, TrueSport Expert and sports medicine physician. There have been reports of professional and collegiate athletes, as well as children, suffering from myocarditis after recovering from COVID-19. “Even before COVID-19, myocarditis was one of the biggest causes of sudden cardiac death in athletes. We’ve always known about it, but it’s newly prominent,” LaBotz adds.
Myocarditis after COVID-19 isn’t a death sentence and it usually resolves after an appropriate recovery period. But it’s important to know the symptoms of myocarditis and to return to sport the right way based on the severity of a young athlete’s symptoms and intensity of the sport. LaBotz also notes that the guidelines for students with COVID-19 are changing all the time, so if your athlete does test positive for the virus, it’s important to contact their physician to get the current return-to-play recommendations.
Recognize the Symptoms of Myocarditis
Have your athlete be on the lookout for warning signs, like a sudden increase in perceived exertion (if an exercise that was easy before is suddenly feeling difficult), undue fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath. If your athlete starts to exhibit any of these symptoms, contact your primary care provider immediately. Typically, a doctor will run an EKG and possibly some additional labs looking for damage to heart tissue. Your child may need to see a cardiologist for a follow up, and if diagnosed with myocarditis, expect your athlete to need between three and six months of rest to recover completely.