Low prevalence of cardiac abnormalities in competitive athletes at return-to-play after COVID-19.

Maestrini V; Penza M; Filomena D; Birtolo LI; Monosilio S; Lemme E; Squeo MR; Mango R; Di Gioia G; Serdoz A; Fiore R; Fedele F; Pelliccia A; IDi Giacinto B

Journal of science and medicine in sport [J Sci Med Sport] 2022 Nov 01.
Date of Electronic Publication: 2022 Nov 01.

Objective: to evaluate the prevalence of cardiac involvement after COVID-19 in competitive athletes at return-to-play (RTP) evaluation, following the recommended Italian protocol including cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET) and 24-Hour Holter monitoring.
Design and Methods: this is a single centre observational, cross-sectional study. Since October 2020, all competitive athletes (age ≥ 14 years) evaluated in our Institute after COVID-19, prior RTP were enrolled. The protocol dictated by the Italian governing bodies included: 12‑lead ECG, blood test, CPET, 24-h ECG monitoring, spirometry. Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance (CMR) was performed based on clinical indication.
Results: 219 consecutive athletes were examined (59% male), age 23 years (IQR 19-27), 21% asymptomatic, 77% mildly symptomatic, 2% with previous pneumonia. The evaluation was performed after a median of 10 (6-17) days from negative SARS-CoV-2 swab. All athletes showed a good exercise capacity at CPET without cardiovascular and respiratory limitations. Uncommon premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) were found in 9.5% (n = 21) at CPET/Holter ECG monitoring. Two athletes (0.9%) were diagnosed with acute myocarditis (by CMR) and another one with new pericardial effusion. All the three athletes were temporally restricted from sport participation.
Conclusions: Myocarditis in competitive athletes screened after COVID-19 resolution was detected in a low minority of the cases (0.9%). However, a non-negligible prevalence of uncommon PVCs (9%) was observed, either at CPET and/or Holter ECG monitoring, including all athletes with COVID-19 related cardiovascular abnormalities.