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How COVID-19 Affects the Heart, Especially in Athletes

In This Video

  • The Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital is designed to care for athletes and highly fit individuals with cardiovascular disease or risk
  • For athletes previously infected with COVID-19, there is concern regarding the degree to which the infection affects their heart muscles in the long term
  • Aaron Baggish, MD, program director, explains how their team is investigating the potential lasting effects of COVID-19 in athletes returning to the field

The Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital is designed to care for athletes with cardiovascular disease or risk. In athletes previously infected with COVID-19, there is concern that the infection continues to affect heart muscles in the long term. Program Director Aaron Baggish, MD, explains how his team is investigating the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 in athletes.


Mass General's Cardiovascular Performance Program was the first of its kind in the nation. It was really set up to be a one-stop resource for athletes and highly fit individuals with either cardiovascular disease or risk.

Our care model here at the Mass General is firmly rooted in science but also based on many years of experience, and we provide a robust tertiary care referral center for athletes and the doctors that work with them when complex problems arise.

We're collaborating with other investigators to bring novel techniques to research questions. But as importantly, our collaborations involve the people we study, we work closely with many local clubs and teams that provide us with the opportunity to work closely with their athletes and we consider collaboration something that is fundamental in all the work we do.

The million-dollar question in the sports and exercise world is the degree to which COVID-19 infection has a lasting effect on the heart muscle that could place athletes at risk for bad outcomes when they return to the sports field, and the diagnosis that we're most concerned about is myocarditis. So what we're really working to figure out now is the degree to which young healthy athletes that were infected with COVID but not sick enough to come to the hospital, harbor risk for myocarditis that would be of relevance when they return to the playing field.

We're still premature to make any general conclusions. We are seeing cases of athletes with heart injury and yet we are seeing far more that had COVID infection and recover completely. Our preliminary look into this question is that it will be a small minority of people affected and those that are affected will need rest, recovery, and attention from the medical professional community. We're really hoping to understand whether or not COVID-19 has cardiovascular complications that would not just be relevant to athletes who are returning to competitive sports, but to routine folks that are interested in returning to the gym or the recreational activities that they enjoy on weekends.

Right now in partnership with colleagues at the University of Washington Seattle Sports Medicine Division, we have launched a nationwide registry in which we're looking at all NCAA colleges and universities that opt-in to participate in an attempt to capture as many COVID-positive athletes as possible returning to sport, and looking long-term at what outcomes they may show us.

Our non-COVID research is really quite diverse. We do everything from small-scale human physiology studies in our exercise lab to the larger, broader epidemiologic look at how exercise and fitness affect health outcomes across populations.

Learn more about the Cardiovascular Performance Program

Refer a patient to the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center


In a registry study of 3,018 collegiate athletes undergoing return-to-play cardiac screening after SARS-CoV-2 infection, Massachusetts General Hospital cardiologists and colleagues found a low prevalence of cardiac involvement, and none of the athletes experienced an adverse cardiac event.


Using a nationwide registry, cardiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital determined that few college athletes who develop SARS-CoV-2 infection have prolonged symptoms, but exertional symptoms on return to exercise, especially chest pain, warrant clinical evaluation and consideration of cardiac MRI to assess for inflammatory heart disease.