Winneshiek Medical Center, Gundersen Health System collaborate for coordinated “Return to Sport” plans after COVID-19 infection for student athletes

Released: 02/26/21

The long-term effects of COVID-19 are unknown and may be far-reaching.  One group at risk for complications after a COVID-19 infection is athletes.

“We have heard the stories of professional athletes in top physical form discovering their hearts are not functioning normally after a COVID-19 infection.  The potential for this same complication exists for our local middle school, high school and college athletes, and the physician groups of our community have come together and created a protocol to monitor athletes as they return to their sport,” says Eric Svestka, M.D., Mayo Clinic Health System family medicine physician at Winneshiek Medical Center.

The cardiac risks, called myocardial injury or myocarditis, are highest among athletes who are hospitalized due to a severe COVID-19 infection.  Athletes with mild or asymptomatic infections have decreased risk; however, a phased return-to-sport approach is still recommended to catch any signs of trouble before it could become a serious problem.

Janet Ryan, M.D., Gundersen Health System family medicine physician says, “Following the recommendations of the American College of Cardiology, athletes will be guided by their health care provider and athletic trainer through a graduated return-to-sport approach, depending on the severity of their COVID-19 infection.  At each phase, the athlete will be monitored for evidence of cardiac stress/symptoms. ”   Symptoms of stress include: dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest pain/pressure, decreased exercise tolerance, and/or fainting.

The plan is being shared with the school districts of our region to promote a unified approach for safe return-to-sport.  “Everyone is on the same team, in this case,” says Dr. Svestka.  “Above all, we want our athletes to be safe.  Our collaborative approach to athlete safety will, hopefully, prevent an athlete from experiencing cardiac distress, and at the most severe level, prevent sudden cardiac death in practice or during competition.  We appreciate the support shown by school districts, parents and athletes themselves as we work through the challenges of COVID-19.”

If you have concerns about returning to sports following a COVID-19 infection, please call your primary care provider for guidance specific to your situation.

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