As COVID survivors deal with lingering heart problems, new SoCal clinic set up to address it

Treating COVID-19 survivors for lingering symptoms is going to be a big part of medicine for decades to come. One of the biggest patient groups will be those dealing with ongoing heart issues.

Now, a new local clinic is addressing this growing patient population.

For 35 years, Regina Juarez had been a home health care nurse until she caught the virus in June.

"I couldn't see straight," the Highland resident said. "I couldn't breathe. My chest hurt."

For three weeks, her family cared for her at home.

"It was very, very scary. It still is because I'm having heart problems still."

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It's been nearly 18 weeks of agony for Lisa Beard's 13-year-old son, Hudson, who contracted COVID-19 in November and has had symptoms ever since.

Juarez didn't have heart issues before she was diagnosed with COVID-19, but now she feels constant chest pain and weakness.

"Even patients with milder symptoms are coming back with cardiovascular symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, dizziness, passing out," said Dr. Purvi Parwani, director of the newly-established COVID Heart Clinic at Loma Linda University International Heart Institute.

"(COVID-19) starts this inflammatory cascade in the body and the heart is affected as a result of that inflammation," she added.

A cardiac MRI revealed inflammation and fluid surrounding Juarez's heart.

"To have the answer for something like that is very relieving," Juarez said.

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Many patients who initially experienced milder COVID-19 symptoms are now showing up at the doctor's office months later with debilitating problems. They're being called "long-haulers."

"What we are doing is basically symptomatically treating the patient," Parwani said.

For Juarez, that means medications to reduce inflammation, blood pressure and cardiac rehab.

"My gut feeling is that six months down the road, she will feel tremendously better," Parwani said.

Besides treating the heart, Parwani and her team collaborate with other specialties to address other lingering symptoms of the virus such as brain fog, shortness of breath and joint and muscle pain.

"This is not all in their head," Parwani said. "These are real symptoms that are brought up by the inflammation that is caused by this virus."

Juarez wants people to know what can happen if you get COVID-19.

"I want them to realize it's real, and even if you do survive, your life is different," she said.

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Medical images can reveal COVID-19's long-term damage on muscles, nerves, joints, bones and other soft tissues, and can lead to better-guided treatment for patients, an NU study fo

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