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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – “Heart problems is something we worry about because you can live without a sense of taste or smell you really can’t do very well without a properly functioning heart,” said Dr. Eliza Chakravarty with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

It’s a side effect rarely discussed but doctors say it could mean the difference between life or death.

“What we’re learning is that there actually a bunch of different ways COVID can affect the heart in the short term when your acutely sick and then possibly in the longer term when you’re in the recovery phase,” said Dr. Chakravarty.

According to researchers at OMRF, COVID-19 could inflame heart cells- making it tougher for the heart to work properly and leaving scar tissue behind.

“Separate from heart attacks and blood vessel problems inflammation of the heart muscles may actually cause permanent damage to the muscles,” said Dr. Chakravarty.

For COVID-19 patients with breathing issues, the heart is already working harder since the lungs don’t get as much oxygen.

“The heart is under strain just from the respiratory disease,” said Dr. Chakravarty.

For researchers, the main problem is it’s hard to study long-term effects when this virus has only been around for a year.

“When somebody gets infected, we have no ability to predict or even impact how severe someone’s case is going to be,” said Dr. Chakravarty.

Another reason why doctors say it’s important to wear your mask in public.

“The best way to avoid heart problems from COVID is to avoid COVID,” she said.