Broken Heart Syndrome on the Rise during COVID-19 Pandemic

Ever heard of the phrase “suffering from a broken heart”? Well, broken heart syndrome is a real thing!

Known formally as stress cardiomyopathy, this condition occurs when physical or emotional distress causes individuals to feel symptoms similar to a heart attack (i.e. chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.). Sometimes, irregular heartbeat, fainting, low blood pressure, and cardiogenic shock (the heart’s inability to pump enough blood for the body’s needs), can occur as well [1, 2].

While the causes of stress cardiomyopathy are not fully understood, it is believed that when a person faces an extremely stressful physical or emotional event, the body releases stress hormones that temporarily limit the heart’s ability to pump, leading to inefficient and irregular contractions [1].

Stress cardiomyopathy is not a direct symptom of COVID-19, but it comes as no surprise that COVID-19 has brought on newly added stress to individuals. People are worried about family members falling ill, and are also dealing with an array of economic and emotional distress, including job loss, or even loneliness/ social isolation [1].

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic compared patients with acute coronary syndrome during the COVID-19 pandemic (March 1 – April 30 2020) with patients suffering from the same syndrome prior to the pandemic (March – April 2018; January – February 2019; March – April 2019; and January – February 2020) [2].

Incidence rates of stress cardiomyopathy were much higher during the COVID-19 pandemic (7.8%) compared to pre-pandemic (1.5-1.8%) [2]. In addition, those diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy during the COVID-19 period were hospitalized for longer compared to those hospitalized for the same condition prior to the pandemic [1].

Broken heart syndrome is not usually fatal; patients tend to be prescribed medication to lower their blood pressure and slow down their heart rate as part of treatment. The condition usually resolves within a few days or weeks [3].

However, in light of these new study results, it’s important for us all to practice self-care and reach out to a medical professional if ever feeling overwhelmed by stress. Make sure to exercise, meditate, and connect with friends and family (while maintaining social distancing measures!) to improve both your heart health and overall health [1]!


References:

1. Researchers find rise in broken heart syndrome during COVID-19 pandemic [Internet]. ScienceDaily. 2020 [cited 1 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200709141603.htm
2. Jabri A, Kalra A, Kumar A, Alameh A, Adroja S, Bashir H et al. Incidence of Stress Cardiomyopathy During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic. JAMA Network Open (Journal of the American Medical Association) [Internet]. 2020 [cited 1 August 2020];3(7):e2014780. Available from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2768093
3. Covid-19 pandemic has caused rise in ‘broken heart’ syndrome, according to research [Internet]. AsiaOne. 2020 [cited 1 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.asiaone.com/lifestyle/covid-19-pandemic-has-caused-rise-broken-heart-syndrome-according-research