Reporting in JAMA Network Open, scientists have found that broken heart syndrome, called stress cardiomyopathy, has been increasing significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Broken heart syndrome can cause symptoms that are similar to a heart attack, like shortness of breath, chest pain, and congestive heart failure, but does not typically involve blockages in arteries, but the heart pumps irregularly. The condition can occur during periods of intense emotional or physical stress, and appears to be yet another health problem connected to SARS-CoV-2.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about multiple levels of stress in people's lives across the country and world. People are not only worried about themselves or their families becoming ill, they are dealing with economic and emotional issues, societal problems and potential loneliness and isolation," said study author Ankur Kalra, M.D., a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist in the Sections of Invasive and Interventional Cardiology and Regional Cardiovascular Medicine. "The stress can have physical effects on our bodies and our hearts, as evidenced by the increasing diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy we are experiencing."
Doctors in Japan were the first to describe this condition, which they called takotsubo cardiomyopathy because of an affected heart's resemblance to the shape of a particular cooking pot; the left ventricle balloons. It's still not well understood but seems to happen after a shocking event, but has no apparent cause in other patients. It may be related to a surge of hormones. Death rates between those that suffer from these heart attacks are similar to patients with more common heart attacks, but patients can also recover within a month.
In this work, cardiologists studied 258 people that did not have COVID-19 and were treated at Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Akron General for acute coronary syndrome (ACS) during March and April, and four groups of treated for ACS patients before the pandemic. The incidence of broken heart syndrome rose from 1.7 percent prior to COVID-19 and 7.8 percent after it started. Those that had stress cardiomyopathy during the pandemic were also hospitalized longer. There was no increase in the death rate.
"While the pandemic continues to evolve, self-care during this difficult time is critical to our heart health, and our overall health," said senior study author Grant Reed, M.D., M.Sc., director of Cleveland Clinic's STEMI (ST-elevation myocardial infarction) program. "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."