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Should students return to sports after having COVID? Here's what doctors say

Doctors say some fatigue when you get back to exercising after COVID is normal, but a noticeable shortness of breath is not, and should be checked.

NEW ORLEANS — Do teens who have recovered from COVID need to have a heart exam before going back to playing sports?

Some schools are mandating that, but others are not.

So, what are the health reasons behind that?

Alex Giacona has been playing soccer since he was a child. Now a senior, he's a member of the Holy Cross High soccer team. They've won four state championships in row, but he couldn't practice over Christmas break because he tested positive for COVID.

“I just had a couple of symptoms, runny nose, little bit of a fever, and so I waited the 10 days,” Giacona said.

But even though Alex is young and in shape, before he could get back on the field, he had to go through a complete physical.

“I had to get all of the paperwork done for LHSAA and I had to get an EKG to be completely cleared,” he said.

“The virus can actually attack the heart, can develop inflammation of the heart muscle, and the reason you worry about the inflammation of the heart muscle is that it can then have abnormal rhythms,” explained Dr. Greg Stewart, a Tulane Sport Medicine specialist and team physician.

Dr. Stewart has been advising high school and college athletic associations during the pandemic. He says in the beginning days of COVID, some sports programs were stopped because of the risk of myocarditis, that potential heart inflammation after the infection. Detailed cardiac exams, MRIs, and tests were required after athletes got well. But now doctors realize that's unnecessary.

“The number of individuals who actually have abnormalities, heart abnormalities, as a result of COVID are very few, and if you have an abnormality, you're going to have symptoms,” Dr. Stewart explained.

That is why the Louisiana High School Athletic Association no longer mandates a complete cardiac physical before an athlete returns to play. It now leaves the decision to the individual schools or districts.

So here's what Dr. Stewart recommends.

If students have:

  • NO SYMPTOMS
  • NO FEVER
  • NO SHORTNESS OF BREATH
  • NO CHEST PAIN
  • NO DIFFICULTY DURING EXERCISE

They can return to athletics.

But while a full heart workup is unnecessary, he says you should still get checked.

“If you have COVID, you should see your doctor before you return to play and make sure that they're saying it's OK to go back,” Dr. Stewart said.

Alex says that check up was important for him.

“It just made me comfortable to know that I'm perfectly healthy to go back, and I don't want to let anyone else get COVID, so I just made sure that I'm 100% before,” Giacona said.

And now he can concentrate on winning another state title with his teammates.

The doctor says some fatigue when you get back to exercising after COVID is normal, but a noticeable shortness of breath is not, and should be checked.

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