Tulane participating in national research about COVID-19’s impact on athletes

A national research project will try to identify the impact COVID-19 has on a student athlete’s health. The research focuses specifically on the heart.

Greg Stewart, director of sports medicine at Tulane University, told WDSU that the school will assist in those efforts.

He said the data collected in the Outcomes Registry for Cardiac Conditions in Athletes (ORCCA) of more than 3,000 athletes will help school administrator’s make important decisions about when it is safe to let players return to the field and host sporting events.

“Can we play a game or can we not play a game?” said Stewart. “What is a competitive advantage?”

The American Heart Association is facilitating the research.

Stewart said the major concern with COVID-19 is the potential to cause inflammation of the heart after infection.

“(We) began to notice that a large number of individuals had some level of inflammation in their heart, and back in summer and fall, that was one of the things that shut down the Big Ten from a football standpoint,” said Stewart.

But Stewart said further research was needed to better understand the issue.

“What we know is, if you have the inflammation of the heart, generally it resolves on its own,” said Stewart. “So you shut the individual down, don’t do any real strenuous exercise, monitor them and then you kind of go back through the whole testing process three months later.”

The registry will allow researchers to compare how thousands of athletes recover from that inflammation using cardiac MRIs.

“We’re doing these tests, finding some of this inflammation, but cardiac MRI is so sensitive, we don’t really know what that means,” said Stewart. “Is every single bit of inflammation that we see on MRI medically significant? Just because you see something, and you find something, doesn’t mean that it’s significant.”

Stewart said other viruses can cause inflammation of the heart besides COVID-19.

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