Physicians on the front line of coronavirus treatment are seeing a new and alarming symptom among patients infected with the COVID-19 virus.
According to reports from doctors across the country and around the world, some patients infected with the new coronavirus appear to be developing blood clots primarily in their lungs and legs.
The clotting symptom, doctors say, is showing up in patients who have very high levels of inflammation in their body, something the virus triggers as it infects more cells.
According to a story in The Washington Post, autopsies are showing that many people who died from the COVID-19 virus have hundreds of microclots present in their lungs at the time they die. The autopsies were not revealing pneumonia as was expected, but lung damage from blood clots and the damage was appearing in the kidneys, liver, heart, intestines and brain, the Post story reported.
Broadway actor Nick Cordero, 41, who contracted the COVID-19 virus, had his right leg amputated after he had a clot block blood flow to his feet, The New York Times reported.
Between 20 and 40 percent of COVID-19 patients at Emory University in Atlanta have developed blood clots, and those clots came even after they were given anticoagulants (blood thinners), Dr. Craig Coopersmith told the Post.
A study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a number of COVID-19 patients seen in New York’s largest health care system had blood test readings that suggested they were suffering from clotting issues.
Harlan Krumholz, a cardiac specialist at the Yale-New Haven Hospital Center, told the Post that no one knows if the clots are caused by the virus’s direct attack on the body or if it is the body fighting back by launching an extreme inflammatory response aimed at killing the virus.
“One of the theories is that once the body is so engaged in a fight against an invader, the body starts consuming the clotting factors, which can result in either blood clots or bleeding. In Ebola, the balance was more toward bleeding. In COVID-19, it’s more blood clots,” he said.
“The problem we are having is that while we understand that there is a clot, we don’t yet understand why there is a clot,” Kaplan added. “We don’t know. And therefore, we are scared.”
Some doctors believe that blood clots could be responsible for COVID-19 patients who leave the hospital only to go home and suddenly die. According to autopsy data from Northwell Health, about 40% of coronavirus patients who died after leaving the hospital appeared to have experienced major clotting events, like a massive heart attack or lung clots, Business Insider reported.
A study from the Netherlands produced similar numbers. Of 184 patients who had the COVID-19 virus and were in intensive care, about a third of them had a complication associated with a clot.
In addition to the clotting issue, doctors say they are seeing something they cannot explain – people coming into the hospital with blood oxygen levels at half what they should be. The levels some physicians have reported would normally cause a person to be unconscious or severely incapacitated.
Dr. Richard Levitan, a New Hampshire emergency room doctor, told “CBS This Morning’s” Gayle King that patients with dramatically low oxygen levels were coming into hospital emergency rooms “awake and alert.”
“People were sick for days, and then they only came in with shortness of breath, like, the day they presented. ... And they would arrive with oxygen levels that basically were incredible to us. I mean, almost unimaginable how people could be awake and alert and have oxygen levels that are half normal,” Levitan said.
“Normally we are 94% to 100% on these devices, these pulse oximeters that measure how much oxygen we have in our blood. And people were showing up with oxygen levels of 50%. Now, this matches the level of oxygen that we’ve measured on the summit of Mount Everest. And it’s amazing to me that patients could be sick for days, getting sicker, not realizing it.”
Levitan went on to suggest that those with the COVID-19 virus has oxygen levels dropping so slowly and their body adapting to the drop that the did not realize they had so little oxygen in their blood.
“You know, what is amazing to me with this disease is people’s brains are working fine,” Levitan said. “Their oxygen levels have gone down to scary low levels, but it has happened slow enough that their body has accommodated. So they are not like every other patient we see with serious lung disease.
“What I’m saying is this disease kills by silent hypoxia, and patients should understand that shortness of breath is a late sign.”