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Organs affected after mild course of COVID-19

Scientists at the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) have shown that even mild to moderate courses of COVID-19 impair the functions of the heart, lungs and kidneys in the medium term and are associated with frequent signs of leg vein thrombosis. 


Since mid-2020, 443 participants between 45 and 74 years of age have been examined in the Hamburg City Health Study (HCHS) after experiencing a SARS-CoV-2 infection with mild symptoms. Ten months after the infection, doctors and scientists checked the cardiovascular and vascular system, the lungs, the kidneys and the brain for function, structure and possible consequential damage. They compared these data with those of 1,328 participants in the HCH study who were not infected with COVID-19 and who were of similar age, gender and educational status. 

Signs of medium-term organ damage 

The researchers found signs of medium-term organ damage in the participants after SARS-CoV-2 infection. In the lung function test, they documented a reduced lung volume of about three percent and a slightly increased airway resistance. The heart examinations showed an average decrease in pumping power of one to two percent as well as a 41 percent increase in a marker protein in the blood, which provides information about the strain on the heart. A key result of the analysis: ultrasound examinations of the legs showed signs of a past leg vein thrombosis two to three times more frequently. The scientists also found a decrease in kidney function of about two percent in the test persons. "The finding that even a mild course of the disease can lead to damage to various organs in the medium term is extremely important, especially with regard to the current Omicron variant, which appears to be associated with milder symptoms in the majority of cases," said Prof. Dr. Raphael Twerenbold, head of the scientific study centre and cardiologist at the UKE's University heart and vascular centre, and first author Elina Petersen, epidemiologist at the UKE's epidemiological study centre. The study results were published in the renowned European Heart Journal. 

Professional biobanking 

The HCHS biobank of the epidemiological study centre at the UKE, a member of the UKE biobank network, was responsible for the biobanking of the study samples. The staff processed the various biosamples and stored them at -80°C or in liquid nitrogen. "In our biobank, we work in a quality-assured manner - thus creating optimal conditions for subsequent analyses," says Prof. Dr. Tanja Zeller, head of the HCHS biobank in the UKE biobank network. The biobank network at the UKE consists of a total of four established biobanks with different clinical focuses and has been an observer of the German Biobank Alliance (GBA) since 2021. 

Early detection and treatment of secondary diseases 

Even minor short-term deteriorations in heart function, for example, after a SARS-CoV-2 infection could pose a risk in the long term. "The results enable us to recognise possible organic secondary diseases at an early stage and to initiate the appropriate therapeutic measures," says Prof. Dr. Stefan Blankenberg, HCH principal investigator and medical director of the University heart and vascular centre of the UKE. 

About the Hamburg City Health Study 

The Hamburg City Health Study (HCHS) is the largest local health study in the world. A total of 45,000 Hamburg residents between the ages of 45 and 74 will be studied over a long period of time to identify risk factors for common diseases such as heart attack, atrial fibrillation, stroke, dementia or heart failure. The aim of the 30 UKE clinics and institutes involved is to develop individualised treatment options and targeted prevention. So far, around 16,000 Hamburg residents have been examined. 

Source: An original version of this text was published as a press release by the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). 

Photo credits: Axel Kirchhof/UKE 

Scientific publication

Elina Petersen et al., Multi-organ assessment in mainly non-hospitalised individuals after SARS-CoV-2 infection: The Hamburg City Health Study COVID program. Eur. Heart J., 2022.




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