Children's Health

New guidance addresses how student athletes can safely return to play after COVID-19 infection

Student athletes ages 14-25 who experience COVID-19 infections need not undergo diagnostic testing for myocarditis in the absence of cardiac symptoms, according to guidance published today by the American College of Cardiology (ACC).

Dr. Kimberly Harmon, section head of sports medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, was a member of the ACC subpanel that authored its “Return to Play” recommendations.

Large registry-based studies showed that the incidence of cardiac issues was not nearly as high as initially feared and that diagnostic testing should be based by symptoms. If people have chest pain during their infection or upon return to play, then they should have a diagnostic workup, but aside from that, they should have a gradual return to exercise.”

Dr. Kimberly Harmon, section head of sports medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine

As COVID-19 emerged, early patient data indicated that many infections seemed to involve the heart. In 2020, some single-institution studies suggested that up to 50% of athletes might experience myocarditis, heart inflammation, as a result of a COVID-19 infection.

“This was part of why the Pac-12 and Big 12 (college athletic conferences) paused playing in August 2020. So we put together the ORCCA Registry to follow athletes throughout the country and see what happened to them after COVID infections. Our registry showed that 0.5% to 1% of athletes developed COVID-associated myocarditis – which is still something we need to pay attention to, but it is far less than 50%. And most of the athletes with myocarditis had cardiac symptoms,” Harmon said.

The new guidance should help primary-care providers and clinicians who conduct sports physicals, she added, because they’ve contended with evolving guidance for recovering patients over the course of the pandemic.

The return-to-play guidance was part of a bigger report detailing the ACC’s recommended evaluation and care of people who experience cardiovascular effects of COVID-19.  

Journal reference:

Gluckman, Ty J., et al. (2022) 2022 ACC Expert Consensus Decision Pathway on Cardiovascular Sequelae of COVID-19 in Adults: Myocarditis and Other Myocardial Involvement, Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection, and Return to Play: A Report of the American College of Cardiology Solution Set Oversight Committee. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2022.02.003.

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