New research reports suggest an increase in a medical phenomenon colloquially known as broken heart syndrome during the COVID-19 pandemic. And experts say this stress-induced heart disease primarily affects women.
According to Deepa B. Iyer, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and senior physician on advanced heart failure, broken heart syndrome is a typically rare and usually temporary heart condition triggered by emotional stress or sudden and intense physical. , VAD and transplant team at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. This stress can lead to rapid onset cardiomyopathy or weakening of the heart muscle. The syndrome was first identified in Japan and is therefore called « Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.”
« Takotsubo is a word for an octopus trapping pot used by Japanese fishermen that has a narrow neck and a round, wide bottom. This pot resembles the shape of the weakened left ventricle of the heart when seen on heart echocardiograms or other imaging studies in these patients with broken heart syndrome, » Dr. Iyer told SELF. (This health condition is also known as stress cardiomyopathy.)
On February 7, ABC News reported that research teams from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, Johns Hopkins University and the Cleveland Clinic have all tracked « a recent increase in cases » of this syndrome during the pandemic. Although data collection is still ongoing, previous research on this topic during the pandemic confirms this. In July 2020 JAMA Network study, researchers found that cases of broken heart syndrome increased after the outbreak of COVID-19. Researchers analyzed data from 1,914 patients from two Cleveland Clinic hospitals with acute coronary syndrome (a range of conditions related to a sudden decrease in blood flow to the heart). Some had acute coronary syndrome before COVID, and others had the syndrome during COVID. The researchers found a 7.8% incidence of stress cardiomyopathy during the pandemic, compared to before the pandemic, when incidences ranged from 1.5% to 1.8%. « This is an underrecognized and misdiagnosed condition, and emotional and physical stressors during the COVID pandemic have led to a resurgence in reported cases, » says Dr. Iyer.
Although the study authors were careful to point out that the results cannot necessarily be generalized for a variety of reasons – patients representing only northeast Ohio, for example – they suggested a few reasons for the potential link between the pandemic and broken heart syndrome. Importantly, none of the people with stress cardiomyopathy in the study had COVID-19. But experts believe COVID-related factors such as loss of income, unemployment and grieving relatives could be behind the increase.
Jennifer Wang, MD, cardiologist and medical director of noninvasive cardiology at MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., has treated many patients with the syndrome, especially during the pandemic. « I’ve had many patients who attend funerals who experience these symptoms, » says Dr. Wong. « The pandemic has been a stressful situation, so it’s no surprise that the conditions directly affected by mental stress are on the rise. When there’s a situation of heightened stress, we tend to see these types of heart problems induced by stress increases,” Dr. Wong tells SELF.