Stress Caused by COVID-19 May Have Triggered Rise in Broken Heart Syndrome

The stress of living through the COVID-19 pandemic may be associated with a rise in what is known as "broken heart syndrome," according to a study.

Also known as stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo syndrome, the condition is characterized by a group of symptoms with similarities to heart attack, which happen in response to physical or emotional stress. Symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain.

A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open showed that the number of people with the syndrome at two hospitals in the Cleveland Clinic health system in Northeast Ohio rose by 7.8 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent. None of the patients in the study had the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Dr. Ankur Kalra, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Newsweek his team believes the link could be explained by the psychological, social and economic stresses people have endured since the outbreak of COVID-19, and may partly be due to how health policymakers have managed the pandemic in the U.S.

Kalra's team set out to investigate the phenomenon after they noticed an uptick in cases, and wanted to see if it had to do with the pressures of living in a pandemic.

The researchers compared cases of acute coronary syndrome, an umbrella term for conditions where blood suddenly stops flowing to the heart, among patients treated at the hospitals before and during the pandemic. Between March 1 and April 30 was defined as during, and data from March to April 2018, January to February 2019, March to April 2019, and January to February 2020 was considered pre-pandemic.

A total of 1,914 patients with acute coronary syndrome were included in the study. Of those, 1,656 visited the hospitals before the pandemic, and 258 during. Amid the pandemic, 20 patients had broken heart syndrome, compared with 5 to 12 before in the other four periods. The most common underlying condition among the group was high blood pressure.

Those who fell ill with the condition during the pandemic stayed in hospitals for longer on average than those who didn't, the data showed.

The authors said the study was limited because it was restricted to Northeast Ohio, so the results may not relate to other regions, states or countries.

Kalra said: "The fact that stress cardiomyopathy is associated with stress is not new; however, the information that the pandemic can have other health effects that aren't directly related to the viral infection is an important message and has some degree of novelty to it. Findings can be extrapolated to other natural disasters, for example."

Co-author Dr. Grant Reed, director of Cleveland Clinic's STEMI program, said in a statement: "While the pandemic continues to evolve, self-care during this difficult time is critical to our heart health, and our overall health.

"For those who feel overwhelmed by stress, it's important to reach out to your healthcare provider. Exercise, meditation and connecting with family and friends, while maintaining physical distance and safety measures, can also help relieve anxiety."

stock, getty, chest pain,
A stock image shows a man holding his chest in pain. Getty