A doctor's explanation of why the effects of myocarditis are dangerous for athletes

Ryan Homler
·4 min read

No area of society has gone untouched by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including sports. After every level of athletics was rocked by the virus and forced to shut down in the spring, professional leagues have figured out ways to return to their fields of play in as safe a manner as possible. Meanwhile, decisions are still being made on the collegiate, high school and youth levels about when and how sports will return.

In our Playing Through COVID series, NBC Sports Washington will tell the story of those decisions and how they impact the people involved, including athletes, coaches, parents and more. The series launched with an interview of Dr. Sunil Budhrani, ER Physician, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Innovation Health. Watch the full interview here.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, high schools across the nation are delaying fall sports as a precaution in order to protect student athletes. Though there are many factors that influenced these decisions to postpone sports, one of the largest may be the uncertainty surrounding the virus.

For every question about the virus that gets an answer, another obstacle arises. Notably, a potential side effect of COVID-19 that impacts the heart has come to light.

Myocarditis -- also known as inflammation of the heart -- has been linked to coronavirus and reportedly found in several college athletes. It's something that has become a major concern of officials and administrators and swayed the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences to cancel fall sports. Though it hasn't been cited for its impact on the decions of high school sports, it's the type of unknown that can't be discounted.

Dr. Sunil Budhrani, ER Physician, CEO and Chief Medical Officer at Innovation Health, discussed the condition during an interview with Chad Ricardo on Wednesday as part of NBC Sports Washington's "Playing Through COVID" series.

"What concerns me is, you are seeing some data come out on children and young adults that are getting disease from the virus," Budhrani said. "Namely, you're eluding to a condition called myocarditis ... It can be caused by a number of things. It can be caused by medications, it can be caused by trauma and it can be caused by viruses. So there's a lot of emphasis going on on coronavirus and its effect on the heart tissue that leads to myocarditis."


Budhrani said more research needs to be done on coronavirus to understand its full effects, but what is currently known is enough cause for concern.

"The concern about this virus is there's some data to suggest it inflames the heart tissue and it can cause subsequent blood clots, it can cause irregular heartbeats and so on, leading to sudden death," Budhrani said.

Athletes are often viewed as superhumans who are immune to the health problems others face. But potential inflammation of the heart is something that can put anyone in danger, even football players who are in top shape. If an athlete were to get myocarditis from the coronavirus, the consequences could be fatal. 

"What happens is, anytime you inflame the heart and then you rev it up by playing a sport or run, it's like pushing a burnt-out car," Budhrani said. "It will collapse."

American athletes have about a two to five percent chance of death related to myocarditis. Budhrani noted that the condition has been found in athletes in the past who have died suddenly while playing.

Myocarditis is just an example of the unknowns surrounding COVID-19, and also a reminder of its potential long-term impact on more than just football in the fall. While there have been discussions on the professional and collegiate levels to create tests that can monitor the hearts of athletes, more data is needed there as well.

Budhrani's insight into myocarditis is just one example of the conversations sports leagues and health professionals have had in deciding how to proceed with sports in the fall. In the end, the lack of answers and number of unknowns seems to have played a big role in postponements.

Stay connected with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.


A doctor's explanation of why the effects of myocarditis are dangerous for athletes originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington