NIH-funded research sheds light on link between COVID-19 infection and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can directly infect the arteries of the heart and cause the fatty plaque inside arteries to become highly inflamed, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The findings(link is external), published in the journal Nature Cardiovascular Research, may help explain why certain people who get COVID-19 have a greater chance of developing cardiovascular disease, or if they already have it, develop more heart-related complications.

In the study, researchers focused on older people with fatty buildup, known as atherosclerotic plaque, who died from COVID-19. However, because the researchers found the virus infects and replicates in the arteries no matter the levels of plaque, the findings could have broader implications for anybody who gets COVID-19.

“Since the early days of the pandemic, we have known that people who had COVID-19 have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease or stroke up to one year after infection,” said Michelle Olive, Ph.D., acting associate director of the Basic and Early Translational Research Program at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH. “We believe we have uncovered one of the reasons why.”

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