The corona crisis has taken an emotional toll on millions around the globe. And now studies show that the novel virus could be associated with a rise in broken hearts.
New research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of July 2020 issue, noted a remarkable increase in stress cardiomyopathy cases since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Broken heart syndrome, also called stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo syndrome, can be characterized by emotional or physical stress resulting in failure or dysfunction of the heart muscle . Patients of stress cardiomyopathy can experience symptoms similar to a cardiac attack, such as
- chest pain and shortness of breath,
- irregular heartbeat chest pain,
- blood pressure drop,
- even cardiogenic shock; however, their heart arteries appear normal.
We find in patients with broken heart syndrome that the reason for their hearts to fail is actually due to an adrenaline spike caused by severe stress in the patient’s life. Some common triggers of this are the death of a friend or family member, loss of a job, death of a pet, or any significant stressors in one’s life.
Is stress cardiomyopathy dangerous?
Stress cardiomyopathy can surely be life-threatening in some instances. Because the syndrome comprises severe heart muscle weakness, patients can have congestive heart failure, shock, low blood pressure, and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities.
The great news is that this condition improves very rapidly, so if patients are under the care of doctors familiar with this syndrome, even the most severely ill tend to make a fast and total recovery .
How does a heart attack differ from stress cardiomyopathy?
Broken heart syndrome can easily be mistaken for a cardiac arrest. Patients with this syndrome may have many of the same symptoms that cardiac arrest patients have, shortness of breath, including chest pain, low blood pressure, and congestive heart failure.
However, looking closely, there are some significant differences between the 2 conditions. Firstly, most heart attacks occur due to blood clots and blockages forming in the coronary arteries, which provide the heart with blood.
If the clots cut off the blood supply to the heart for prolonged periods, heart muscle cells may die, leaving the heart with irreversible and permanent damage.
[Also Read: How to heal a Broken Heart]
This is entirely different from what is seen with broken heart syndrome.
Firstly, many of the patients with stress cardiomyopathy that both others and we have seen appear to have fairly normal coronary arteries and do not have clots or severe blockages.
Secondly, the heart cells of stress cardiomyopathy patients are “stunned” by the adrenaline and other stress hormones but not killed as they are in a cardiac arrest. Luckily, this stunning gets better very rapidly, often within just a couple days.
So even though a person with broken heart syndrome can have severe heart muscle weakness at the time of admission to the hospital, the heart completely recovers within a couple of weeks in most cases, and there is no permanent harm.
Researchers at Cleveland Clinic looked at 1,914 patients from 2 hospitals with the ACS (acute coronary syndrome), a term used to describe a condition where blood flow to the heart is abruptly blocked.
A comparison was made between 258 patients with the acute coronary syndrome who came in during the COVID-19 and 4 control groups of patients with acute coronary syndrome before the pandemic.
The research revealed a significant surge in patients diagnosed with broken heart syndrome, at 7.8 percent between the 1st of March and 30th of April, compared with 1.7 percent before the crisis, a 4- to 5-time spike. Patients with stress cardiomyopathy also had a more extended hospital stay during the pandemic.
It’s essential to know that none of the patients in the research had the COVID-19 virus. So this is not a consequence of the viral infection. This was a spike in the incidence of this problem during the pandemic period.
The corona pandemic has brought about multiple stress levels, as many are dealing with emotional, economic, societal, and isolation issues simultaneously.
[Also Read: Tips for Coping Stress During COVID-19]
How to Treat Broken Heart Syndrome
While there is no preventive medication for broken heart syndrome, diagnosed patients are typically treated with drugs used for cardiac failures, such as ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, paired with stress management recommendations.
Researchers stress that those with broken heart syndrome should prioritize a heart-friendly lifestyle. Several ways to cope with the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic include: staying in touch with family and friends, exercising, and confronting thoughts of helplessness and loneliness.
As lockdowns continue across the globe, it can be tough to deal with isolation, particularly for those who typically rely on the care of loved ones. This can result in individuals procrastinating medical attention. Experts urge patients not to neglect symptoms, particularly those with chronic conditions.
Researchers say patients with stress cardiomyopathy typically recover in a matter of weeks or even days. However, it can occasionally result in severe cerebrovascular and cardiac events, which can be lethal. Experts noted there were no differences in mortality rates during their research.
As the COVID-19 is expected to continue much longer, stress cardiomyopathy cases are expected to continue increasing. While the research has limitations, being concentrated on a small number of patients in northeast Ohio, Researchers hope to continue this analysis and see if the trend is similar in multiple nationality regions.
So that is something which we think we’re going to see more of and we’re going to struggle with as the COVID-19 pandemic goes on. It will have a profound impact on public health, not just because of the virus infecting people, but because of all the effects, the pandemic is going to have on society.