The COVID-19 pandemic will cause "exponential" growth in heart disease over the next few years, researchers have claimed.
It is known that COVID-19 can cause heart damage, but the pandemic also means that patients are delaying care for heart attacks and strokes, according to a report published by the American Heart Association.
These issues are compounded by the cardiovascular health risks that are "exacerbated by the lifestyle behaviours that have been prevalent throughout the pandemic", said Dr Salid Virani,
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It follows the American College of Cardiology warning cases can cause heart injuries in young children.
Myocardial injuries have been reported in a number of adult patients since the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, but there have been assumptions that most children will be asymptomatic of infection.
Studies have found that up to 28% of adult patients hospitalised with COVID-19 have also developed myocardial injuries, although most of these adults had pre-existing cardiovascular disease.
A study from the University of Edinburgh found abnormal changes to the way the heart was pumping in 55% of patients with the virus who were examined with an echocardiogram, with one in seven showing severe dysfunction.
"COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on human life worldwide and is on track to become one of the top three to five causes of death in 2020," said Dr Virani.
"But its influence will directly and indirectly impact rates of cardiovascular disease prevalence and deaths for years to come," he added.
He issued the warning as the chair of the writing committee for the American Heart Association's 2021 Statistical Update, and as an associate professor in cardiology and cardiovascular research sections at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
"The extraordinary circumstances of dealing with COVID-19 have changed the way we live, including adopting unhealthy behaviours that are known to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke," Dr Virani said.
"Unhealthy eating habits, increased consumption of alcohol, lack of physical activity and the mental toll of quarantine isolation and even fear of contracting the virus all can adversely impact a person's risk for cardiovascular health."
He added that the full ramifications of these trends "will likely be felt for many years to come".