Cases of ‘broken heart syndrome’ are FOUR TIMES higher during the coronavirus pandemic because stress increases due to fear of COVID-19
- Cleveland experts report more patients with the condition as of March
- In addition, their hospital stay was extended, although no coronavirus
- The syndrome – called ‘stress cardiomyopathy’ – can resemble a heart attack
- It is believed to be caused by stress-causing hormones that disrupt the heart
Cases of ‘broken heart syndrome’ are more than four times higher during the coronavirus pandemic when stress levels rise, a study shows.
Doctors in Cleveland, Ohio, reported that the condition, stress cardiomyopathy, has been more common in patients with heart disease since March.
Symptoms of the stress-driven syndrome can resemble a heart attack – with chest pain and shortness of breath, but without acutely blocked coronary arteries.
Other signs of the condition include an enlarged left ventricle, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and fainting.
In some cases, it can lead to cardiogenic shock – an often fatal condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body.
Cases of ‘broken heart syndrome’ are more than four times higher during COVID-19 as stress levels rise, a study has found. Pictured, symptoms can resemble a heart attack
CASE STUDY: STRESS CARDIOMYOPATHY IN A 52-YEAR MALE COVID-19 PATIENT
In a separate study, researchers from Baltimore presented the case of a 52-year-old male COVID-19 patient from a nursing home who was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
The man – who had recently tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 – developed shortness of breath and rapid breathing, fever and hypoxia.
Medical imaging demonstrated apical balloon formation of the left ventricle in accordance with stress cardiomyopathy.
The treatment was successful and resulted in the man being discharged from the clinic.
The team suggests that the viral infection here – unlike the Cleveland Clinic examples – led directly to stress cardiomyopathy, likely through an excessive immune response referred to by experts as a “ cytokine storm. ”
The full case report is published in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
Pictured, the patient’s left ventricle with the apical ballooning of stress cardiomyopathy
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused multiple levels of stress in the lives of people across the country and around the world,” says cardiologist Ankur Kalra of the Cleveland Clinic.
“People are not just concerned about themselves or their families getting sick – they are dealing with economic and emotional problems, social problems and possible loneliness and isolation.”
“The stress can have physical effects on our body and heart, as evidenced by the increasing diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy we experience.”
While the causes of stress cardiomyopathy are not fully understood, experts believe that physical and emotional stress can release hormones that temporarily decrease the heart’s pumping ability, causing it to develop an irregular rhythm.
The condition is also referred to as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, referring to the Japanese expression for a ‘fish trap for catching octopus’ – which is what the weakened left ventricle of the heart may look like in patients with the condition.
In their research, Dr. Kalra and colleagues named 258 patients who identified a series of heart symptoms called acute coronary syndrome in the Cleveland Clinic or Akron General in March or April this year.
Symptoms of acute coronary syndrome include chest pain, chest tightness and left side of the body, sweating, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath.
The researchers compared the patients present during the pandemic with four control groups of individuals with the same condition before COVID-19.
They found that the incidence of stress cardiomyopathy in the patients with acute coronary syndrome had increased from about 1.7 percent to 7.8 percent.
In addition, individuals diagnosed with ‘broken heart syndrome’ tended to stay in hospital longer during the pandemic than those before the outbreak of the new coronavirus – although none were positive for COVID-19.
However, there was no difference in the mortality of the patients before and after the onset of the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused multiple levels of stress in the lives of people across the country and around the world,” says cardiologist Ankur Kalra of the Cleveland Clinic. “People are not just concerned about themselves or their families getting sick – they are dealing with economic and emotional problems, social problems and possible loneliness and isolation”
“As the pandemic continues to evolve, self-care is critical to our heart health – and our overall health, at this difficult time,” said paper author and Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Grant Reed.
“For those who feel overwhelmed by stress, it is important to contact your healthcare provider,” he continued.
“Exercise, meditation, and connecting with family and friends – while maintaining physical distance and safety measures – can also help ease anxiety.”
The full findings of the study are published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
BROKEN HEART SYNDROME: STAT
Although best known as ‘broken heart syndrome’, the condition has two other names: stress cardiomyopathy and Takotsubo syndrome.
The last name comes from the shape the heart takes on an episode of “heartbreak.”
The left pumping chamber of the heart extends outward like a balloon, while the base of the muscle turns and retracts.
The combined effect makes the heart too weak to pump blood properly.
And according to the Japanese scientists who first discovered the phenomenon, the twisted heart resembles a ‘Takotsubo’, a jar that catches octopus.
The sudden heart syndrome causes symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, such as chest pain and shortness of breath.
The exact cause and mechanisms of broken heart syndrome are unclear.
But it usually happens after shocks, such as bodily injury or infection or the news of a loved one’s death.
Scientists believe that a sudden influx of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol causes the heart to become confused.
The condition affects more than a million in the US every year and is life threatening.