Red blood cells or corpuscles flowing through a vein.

What’s new: While early on COVID-19 was branded as a respiratory illness, its wide array of symptoms — from the toes to the brain — baffled experts. According to experts interviewed in an Elemental article, it’s unprecedented that a respiratory illness could migrate outside the lungs. But new research suggests COVID-19 may actually be a blood vessel disease, which would explain all of the virus’ symptoms.

The frontlines: To date, more than 6 million people around the world have a confirmed case of COVID-19. The most common symptoms are still a fever, cough and difficultly breathing. But COVID-19 causes other symptoms, like digestive issues, blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, brain swelling and skin issues. There could be an explanation that takes all of these into account:

COVID-19 may be a “vasculotropic virus,” or a virus that affects the blood vessels

Specifically, the coronavirus may target endothelial cells that line your blood vessels and help protect your heart, prevent clotting and keep blood flowing smoothly

This could also explain why people with high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease are at higher risk of COVID-19, because all of these conditions already impact endothelial cells

Endothelial cells connect the entire circulation [system], 60,000 miles worth of blood vessels throughout our body. — William Li, MD, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation

A Mighty Voice: Our contributor, Victoria Rio, explained that it’s also really important to listen to the experience of patients with COVID-19 as we learn more about its symptoms. “Nobody understands this illness yet, so we owe patients the benefit of the doubt. Alleviating the stress of being dismissed might even facilitate recovery.” You can submit your first person story, too.

More helpful thinking: If you want to learn more about how COVID-19 may be linked to blood vessels, you can read the full article on Elemental, which includes expert insight and the latest research. Take a look here.


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