Med Student Seeks Care for Lingering Heart Symptoms at Post-Covid Care Clinic

Hannah Lipe, ’24, was excited to explore the many hiking and skiing options in the region when she relocated to Albany for her first year of medical school last August. But lingering symptoms from a July Covid diagnosis would prevent her from hitting the trails.

Lipe, 24, began noticing a heaviness on the right side of her body, along with bouts of numbness, neck pain, tension headaches, difficulty sleeping and purple discoloration of her hands right around the time she began her studies. These worrying symptoms, along with heart palpitations, a high resting heart rate and exercise intolerance have prevented her from doing the things she enjoys.

“As a previously healthy and active person, these symptoms have forced me to slow down significantly and learn to listen to what my body needs. Learning how to balance studying with the many doctors’ appointments that have come with this and the uncertainty of how my body will feel has been a challenge. Ironically, these lingering symptoms have been a great learning experience and have shown me just how complicated the human body can be,” said Lipe.

Lipe saw many doctors who couldn’t find anything wrong with her that might cause her wide array of symptoms and who were in disbelief that the symptoms could be caused by Covid, especially considering that her case was relatively mild. When she visited Albany Med’s Post-Covid Clinic, she finally found the sense of reassurance she was looking for.

“The physicians at the Post-Covid Clinic told me that they had been seeing other people with similar symptoms, and it was really important for me to feel like I was not alone,” she said.

Lipe was referred to Joshua Schulman-Marcus, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology.

“This phenomenon of lingering heart-related symptoms is increasingly recognized throughout the world. Some young, previously healthy and active individuals report exhaustion and increased heart rate with minimal exertion,” said Dr. Schulman-Marcus. “Clearly it is not psychosomatic.”

Dr. Schulman-Marcus conducts a thorough cardiac workup on these patients including an echocardiogram and ultrasound to assess for damage to the heart muscle and to exclude any pre-existing conditions. Some patients might also be sent home with a heart monitor to record electrical activity 24/7.

“Research is ongoing as to how best to treat post-Covid patients with heart concerns. If we don’t detect any serious conditions, we will often make recommendations as to activity levels, proper diet, hydration and stress management to help control the symptoms,” said Dr. Schulman-Marcus.

Lipe has found some relief since following recommendations to increase her electrolytes and sodium, to wear compression socks and to sleep with her head elevated. She said she is slowly working on getting back into light exercise such as walking, yoga and pilates.

“Dr. Schulman-Marcus has been very responsive and open-minded,” she said. “I have seen a slight improvement in my heart rate, experience palpitations less frequently, and I have been able to sleep better.”

While much is still unknown about what is causing these lingering symptoms among “long-haulers,” as they are called, Dr. Schulman-Marcus is certain of one thing: “These are chronic, life-changing symptoms that should encourage vaccination for everyone, even people who are younger and healthy.”