Multiple college athletes have been diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be caused by viral infections like COVID-19.
According to ESPN, at least five Big Ten athletes have been diagnosed with myocarditis, a rare condition that can lead to heart damage and even cardiac arrest if it’s untreated. The diagnoses, according to the story, are why leaders across the Big Ten have been seriously weighing the possibility of not playing football and other fall sports in 2020.
Conference officials and athletic directors told ESPN that the uncertainty about the long-term effects of myocarditis has been discussed in meetings of presidents and chancellors, commissioners and athletics directors, and health advisory board members from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and other conferences around the country. Last week, college administrators saw a Facebook post from Debbie Rucker, mother of Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney, who wrote that her son was dealing with potential heart problems after battling COVID-19.
Monday afternoon, the Mountain West became the second FBS conference to postpone the football season. The MWC’s decision came after the Mid-American Conference said Saturday that its teams would not be playing fall sports in 2020.
Unknown effects of COVID-19
Since COVID-19 is such a new virus, doctors and other health experts don’t have a grasp on what the long-term effects can be for people who contract the virus and are continuing to learn things about the coronavirus.
Some limited studies have shown that COVID-19 can cause heart inflammation after someone contracts the virus. According to the Mayo Clinic, “severe myocarditis weakens your heart so that the rest of your body doesn’t get enough blood. Clots can form in your heart, leading to a stroke or heart attack.”
Rucker said in her Facebook post that her son had to go to the emergency room because of breathing issues and further testing by the school including an echocardiogram indicated potential heart problems. As of Friday he had not been cleared to resume team workouts.
Houston defensive lineman Sedrick Williams said over the weekend that he wouldn’t play in 2020 because of heart issues. He contracted COVID-19 in June.
“As a result of the virus I’ve had complications with my heart and I really don’t know the outcome or what’s in store for me in the future,” Williams wrote on Facebook. “I just know that my life is more precious to me than football could ever be.”
Schools running cardiac tests for players
ESPN’s story noted how numerous schools were implementing cardiac tests for players who had tested positive for COVID-19. Those with myocarditis are recommended to not exercise for between three and six months before being cleared to resume. If football was played as scheduled this fall, that means a player who had myocarditis as a result of COVID-19 or any other reason should not play in 2020.
Dr. Peter Dean, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Virginia who treats the college’s athletes along with MacKnight, was co-author of an analysis published last month by the American College of Cardiology about returning to play after a coronavirus infection. Although he hasn’t diagnosed myocarditis in any Virginia athletes who have had COVID-19 so far, he said he’s had athletes in the past with myocarditis caused by other factors.
“Most of the kids I have seen [who have myocarditis] had symptoms,” such as chest pains or palpitations, or they had passed out, he said. “After having them rest for three to six months, you repeat testing. If it’s all normal, they’re clear to go back to playing.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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