Prevalence of Cardiovascular Complications in Malaria: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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  • 1 Federal University of Acre, Campus Floresta, Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre, Brazil;
  • 2 Department of Cardiology, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, Hellerup, Denmark;
  • 3 Department of Parasitology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil;
  • 4 National Malaria Reference Laboratory, Department of Bacteria, Parasites and Fungi, Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark;
  • 5 Faculty of Biomedical Sciences, Copenhagen University, Copenhagen, Denmark

Recent studies have suggested that malaria may affect the cardiovascular system. The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to determine the prevalence of cardiovascular complications in symptomatic malaria patients. We searched databases such as Pubmed, Embase, Cochrane, and Web of Science (January 1950–April 2020) for studies reporting on cardiovascular complications in adults and children with malaria. Cardiovascular complications were defined as abnormalities in electrocardiogram (ECG), cardiac biomarkers, and echocardiography on admission or during outpatient examination. Studies of patients with known heart disease or cardiovascular evaluation performed after the start of intravenous antimalarial medication were excluded. The study was registered in PROSPERO (No.: CRD42020167672). The literature search yielded 1,243 studies, and a total of 43 studies with symptomatic malaria patients were included. Clinical studies (n = 12 adults; n = 5 children) comprised 3,117 patients, of which a majority had Plasmodium falciparum (n = 15) and were diagnosed with severe malaria (n = 13). In random-effects models of adults, the pooled prevalence estimate for any cardiovascular complication was 7% (95% CI: 5–9). No meta-analysis was conducted in children, but the range of abnormal ECG was 0–8%, cardiac biomarkers 0–57%, and echocardiography 4–9%. We analyzed 33 cases (n = 10 postmortem), in which the most common cardiovascular pathologies were myocarditis and acute coronary syndrome. All histopathological studies found evidence of parasitized red blood cells in the myocardium. Cardiovascular complications are not uncommon in symptomatic adults and children with malaria. Additional studies investigating malaria and cardiovascular disease are encouraged.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Philip Brainin, Rua do Embira 341, Bairro Joao Alves, Cruzeiro do Sul, Acre 69980-000, Brazil. E-mail:

Financial support: P. B. was funded by a research grant from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (0129-00003B).

Authors’ addresses: Anna Engell Holm, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, Hellerup, Denmark and Federal University of Acre, Acre, Brazil, E-mail: Laura C. Gomes, Federal University of Acre and University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, E-mail: Claudio Romero Farias Marinho, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, E-mail: Odilson M. Silvestre¸Federal University of Acre, Acre, Brazil, E-mail: Lasse S. Vestergaard, Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark, E-mail: Tor Biering-Sørensen, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, Hellerup, Denmark, and Copenhagen University, Copenhagen, Denmark, E-mail: Philip Brainin, Herlev-Gentofte Hospital, Hellerup, Denmark and Federal University of Acre, Brazil, E-mail: