Top Mayo Clinic Cardiologist: Heart Is Not Center of Coronavirus Universe

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Counter to some of the guidance that led to the postponement of the Big 10 college football season, in an interview with TheStreet's Jim Cramer, a top cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic said the heart should not be the key factor when it comes to decisions around the coronavirus. 

As sports have returned or not returned in the case of some college sports conferences, the heart has been a key subject of debate. The coronavirus has been tied to myocarditis, an inflammatory heart disease that is often contracted via viral causes. According to the American Heart Association, "Fulminant myocarditis, often caused by a viral infection, comes on suddenly and often with significant severity, resulting in an exceptionally high risk of death caused by cardiogenic shock (the heart’s inability to pump enough blood), fatal arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) and multiorgan failure."

Myocarditis fears and other cardiovascular concerns were prevalent in the decision for the Big 10 and Pac-12 to postpone their respective seasons as the conferences addressed fears of the impact on young athletes. “The last month or two, even asymptomatic young people are developing myocardial injury,” Dr. Matthew Martinez told Sports Illustrated in a recent article. 

However, there isn't consensus across the medical community. Dr. Michael Ackerman M.D., Ph.D., a genetic cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, and one of the medical professionals consulted in the Big 12 decision to play, told Cramer the heart should not be the tipping point in sports decisions. 

While Ackerman doesn't deny coronavirus can cause myocarditis, he noted that current studies and the arguments have been primarily on middle-aged adults rather than young, healthy athletes. Ackerman  "The heart doesn't deserve to be the certain of the universe in this equation," Ackerman said. "The heart isn't and should not be used as a straw that broke the proverbial camel's back reason to say 'we're done with sports for now or students returning to campus for now.'" 

The study Cramer refers to was published in JAMA Cardiology. According to the study of 100 patients, "cardiac magnetic resonance imaging revealed cardiac involvement in 78 patients (78%) and ongoing myocardial inflammation in 60 patients (60%), which was independent of preexisting conditions, severity and overall course of the acute illness, and the time from the original diagnosis."  

In response to inquiry from TheStreet, corresponding author of the study, Elike Nagel, said, "Our group size is too small to say anything specific on 18-24 year olds. However, there was no correlation of the findings with age, allowing at least for the possibility, that also younger people can be affected."

Watch Ackerman's full take on coronavirus and the heart in the video above. 

Editors Note: Ackerman's interview was part of a larger Business of the Coronavirus series where TheStreet is speaking to doctors, business leaders and influencers driving decisions amid the coronavirus pandemic. Is what is happening in college sports a preview of what's to come as employees return to work? Keep up with the latest on TheStreet. 

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