Prevalence and diagnostic significance of de-novo 12-lead ECG changes after COVID-19 infection in elite soccer players

Heart. 2023 May 26;109(12):936-943. doi: 10.1136/heartjnl-2022-322211.


Background and aim: The efficacy of pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 infection 12-lead ECGs for identifying athletes with myopericarditis has never been reported. We aimed to assess the prevalence and significance of de-novo ECG changes following COVID-19 infection.

Methods: In this multicentre observational study, between March 2020 and May 2022, we evaluated consecutive athletes with COVID-19 infection. Athletes exhibiting de-novo ECG changes underwent cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) scans. One club mandated CMR scans for all players (n=30) following COVID-19 infection, despite the absence of cardiac symptoms or de-novo ECG changes.

Results: 511 soccer players (median age 21 years, IQR 18-26 years) were included. 17 (3%) athletes demonstrated de-novo ECG changes, which included reduction in T-wave amplitude in the inferior and lateral leads (n=5), inferior leads (n=4) and lateral leads (n=4); inferior T-wave inversion (n=7); and ST-segment depression (n=2). 15 (88%) athletes with de-novo ECG changes revealed evidence of inflammatory cardiac sequelae. All 30 athletes who underwent a mandatory CMR scan had normal findings. Athletes revealing de-novo ECG changes had a higher prevalence of cardiac symptoms (71% vs 12%, p<0.0001) and longer median symptom duration (5 days, IQR 3-10) compared with athletes without de-novo ECG changes (2 days, IQR 1-3, p<0.001). Among athletes without cardiac symptoms, the additional yield of de-novo ECG changes to detect cardiac inflammation was 20%.

Conclusions: 3% of athletes demonstrated de-novo ECG changes post COVID-19 infection, of which 88% were diagnosed with cardiac inflammation. Most affected athletes exhibited cardiac symptoms; however, de-novo ECG changes contributed to a diagnosis of cardiac inflammation in 20% of athletes without cardiac symptoms.

Keywords: Cardiomyopathies; Electrocardiography; Myocarditis.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / diagnosis
  • Athletes
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19* / complications
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Prevalence
  • Soccer*
  • Young Adult