PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — What if there was a way to predict who will have a harder time with a coronavirus infection?

Researchers may be onto a clue in the heart.

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“These patients seem to do worse. The ones we’ve detected right ventricular enlargement in,” says Allegheny Health Network cardiologist Dr. Amresh Raina.

In a one-month study of 105 coronavirus patients at one hospital in New York City, researchers compiled a number of characteristics.

“They looked at not just the patient’s age and demographic findings, things like diabetes and high blood pressure. They also looked at laboratory testing values, imaging values, whether the patients were on ventilators,” Dr. Raina said.

The statistical analysis showed patients are more likely to die if they were on a breathing machine, needed drugs to help blood circulate and had a surprise factor — a bigger than normal heart chamber.

“The right ventricular enlargement is a finding that hasn’t been well-documented previously,” says Dr. Raina. “I think it’s a relatively new finding.”

In the study, about one-third of the patients had this.

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Of these patients, four out of 10 died, compared to only one out of 10 if they did not have the finding.

It’s easily seen on a heart ultrasound.

The right ventricle is one of the pumping chambers of the heart. It pumps blood that comes back from the body, into the lungs, to pick up oxygen.

This chamber can enlarge with coronavirus because of inflammation in the lungs, small blood clots in the lungs or viral inflammation of the heart itself.

Patients with right ventricular enlargement might be monitored more closely or get medicines to dilate blood vessels in the lungs.

Whether all coronavirus patients should get a heart ultrasound remains to be seen. A full echocardiogram requires a patient to go to the lab and PPE for the staff.

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“I think doing a limited, portable ultrasound on these patients is a very feasible thing to do,” Dr. Raina says.

Dr. Maria Simbra