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COVID-19 and its cardiovascular effects: a systematic review of prevalence studies.

BACKGROUND: A small minority of people with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) develop a severe illness, characterised by inflammation, microvascular damage and coagulopathy, potentially leading to myocardial injury, venous thromboembolism (VTE) and arterial occlusive events. People with risk factors for or pre-existing cardiovascular disease may be at greater risk.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the prevalence of pre-existing cardiovascular comorbidities associated with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a variety of settings, including the community, care homes and hospitals. We also assessed the nature and rate of subsequent cardiovascular complications and clinical events in people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

SEARCH METHODS: We conducted an electronic search from December 2019 to 24 July 2020 in the following databases: the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase,, and EU Clinical Trial Register.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included prospective and retrospective cohort studies, controlled before-and-after, case-control and cross-sectional studies, and randomised controlled trials (RCTs). We analysed controlled trials as cohorts, disregarding treatment allocation. We only included peer-reviewed studies with 100 or more participants, and excluded articles not written in English or only published in pre-print servers.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently screened the search results and extracted data. Given substantial variation in study designs, reported outcomes and outcome metrics, we undertook a narrative synthesis of data, without conducting a meta-analysis. We critically appraised all included studies using the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) checklist for prevalence studies and the JBI checklist for case series.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 220 studies. Most of the studies originated from China (47.7%) or the USA (20.9%); 9.5% were from Italy. A large proportion of the studies were retrospective (89.5%), but three (1.4%) were RCTs and 20 (9.1%) were prospective. Using JBI's critical appraisal checklist tool for prevalence studies, 75 studies attained a full score of 9, 57 studies a score of 8, 31 studies a score of 7, 5 studies a score of 6, three studies a score of 5 and one a score of 3; using JBI's checklist tool for case series, 30 studies received a full score of 10, six studies a score of 9, 11 studies a score of 8, and one study a score of 5 We found that hypertension (189 studies, n = 174,414, weighted mean prevalence (WMP): 36.1%), diabetes (197 studies, n = 569,188, WMP: 22.1%) and ischaemic heart disease (94 studies, n = 100,765, WMP: 10.5%)  are highly prevalent in people hospitalised with COVID-19, and are associated with an increased risk of death. In those admitted to hospital, biomarkers of cardiac stress or injury are often abnormal, and the incidence of a wide range of cardiovascular complications is substantial, particularly arrhythmias (22 studies, n = 13,115, weighted mean incidence (WMI) 9.3%), heart failure (20 studies, n = 29,317, WMI: 6.8%) and thrombotic complications (VTE: 16 studies, n = 7700, WMI: 7.4%).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: This systematic literature review indicates that cardiometabolic comorbidities are common in people who are hospitalised with a COVID-19 infection, and cardiovascular complications are frequent. We plan to update this review and to conduct a formal meta-analysis of outcomes based on a more homogeneous selected subsample of high-certainty studies.

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