RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As hospitals across the Triangle fill with COVID-19 patients, doctors say they aren’t just seeing people with respiratory issues, they’re also seeing cardiovascular problems.

“We’re seeing a lot more people with heart attack. We’re seeing a lot more people with stroke because COVID has damaged their body,” said Dr. David Kirk, associate chief medical officer at WakeMed.

Dr. Manesh Patel, chief of cardiology at Duke explained that COVID-19 can affect the blood vessels and the heart itself.

“We do think COVID infection itself can lead to clots forming, whether those clots happen in your lungs causing stroke or they happen in the arteries around your heart,” he said. “We actually know that COVID itself is causing some of the heart muscle cells to die.”

Doctors say COVID-19 can cause cardiovascular issues in some previously healthy people. It can also worsen cardiac issues for those who already have them.

UNC Rex Cardiologist Dr. Christopher Kelly describes COVID-19 like a stress test on the body.

“I see frequently people in my office who are young otherwise healthy people who had a seemingly minor bout of COVID months earlier and are still just experiencing extra annoying beats, feeling like their heart races whenever they do mild activity, and it can be really debilitating,” he said.

He emphasized that most people who get the virus do not develop heart problems, but right now the number of people with COVID-19 is so high, it’s leading to an increase in cardiac patients.

“Because there’s just so many people all the time being infected with COVID-19, even these uncommon complications like heart disease are flooding our hospitals and making it difficult to care for people who have the other diseases that we were caring for before this epidemic started,” he said.

Patel added that he believes there are additional cardiac patients due to the stress of the pandemic causing a rise in blood pressure and people experiencing more severe cardiac issues because they delayed getting care at the start of the pandemic.

Both cardiologists pointed out that while the vaccine may be linked to rare cases of heart inflammation, the risk of cardiac problems from a COVID-19 infection outweighs any risk from the vaccine.