Heart Rate Irregularities Associated With Long COVID-19 in Women

Women with long COVID-19 experience heart rate irregularities in response to physical exertion, which could potentially limit exercise tolerance and free-living physical activity, according to research published in Experimental Physiology. The investigators posit that due to the greater prevalence of age-related physical disability among women, targeted rehabilitation programs may be necessary for persistent heart and lung problems in women with lingering symptoms of COVID-19

The investigators compared women following mild-to-moderate SARS-CoV-2 infection to an uninfected control group, matching for age and body mass index. The proportion of women exceeding the average age of menopause was similar between the infected group and the control group. Women with a history of major lung disease, heart disease, or reported smoking or use of tobacco products within the previous 6 months were excluded from the study.

According to the study results, among participants who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2, heart rate was reduced during physical exertion, and recovery—the slowing of heart rate back to baseline—was delayed after the exertion. Further, a greater amount of abnormal heart rate responses was associated with an increased number of days experiencing shortness of breath at illness onset and poorer ability for gas exchange in the lungs.

Women who reported shortness of breath or muscle and joint aches at the time of testing achieved a lower proportion of predicted 6-minute walk test distance compared to both the control group and participants who had been infected but were not experiencing symptoms.

“Given the greater prevalence of age-related physical disability in women, as compared to men, our findings show that a targeted rehab program might be especially useful to women and other groups affected by persistent COVID-19 symptoms—thus promoting recovery and minimizing susceptibility for deteriorating physical condition,” said Stephen J. Carter, PhD, in a press release.

Limitations of the study include that menopausal status or hormone levels were not controlled for in the investigation—potentially limiting broader applicability of the results—and the possibility of undiagnosed lung or heart abnormalities existing prior to SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to the authors. The investigators also posit the possibility that members of the control group may have had asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.

REFERENCE

Women with long COVID-19 may need targeted rehabilitation to help counter problems with physical activity tolerance [news release]. EurekAlert; November 11, 2021. Accessed November 12, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/934265