Study Finds ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ on the Rise from Stress over COVID Restrictions

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Ripple effects of the coronavirus are giving America a bad case of “Broken Heart Syndrome,” according to a new study.

The syndrome does not refer to the complex issues of romance while wearing masks and remaining six feet apart, but to something called stress cardiomyopathy.

The Cleveland Clinic, which had its study on the syndrome published July 9 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, said in a release on its website that “Stress cardiomyopathy occurs in response to physical or emotional distress and causes dysfunction or failure in the heart muscle.”

“Patients typically experience symptoms similar to a heart attack, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, but usually do not have acutely blocked coronary arteries,” the clinic stated, adding that “[o]ther symptoms include irregular heartbeat, fainting, low blood pressure and cardiogenic shock (an inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands due to the impact of stress hormones on the cells of the heart).”

The study examined 1,914 patients at two Ohio hospitals during March and April. It then compared those results with levels of stress cardiomyopathy in past years.

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Researchers found that the presence of “Broken Heart Syndrome” jumped from between 1.5 percent and 1.8 percent in normal times to 7.8 percent this spring, when coronavirus cases were multiplying rapidly.

“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,” Dr. Ankur Kalra of the Cleveland Clinic, who led the study, said in the release.

“The stress can have physical effects on our bodies and our hearts, as evidenced by the increasing diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy we are experiencing.”

Although all of the patients studied were hospitalized, none had COVID-19.

Do you find yourself dealing with more stress these days?

“While the pandemic continues to evolve, self-care during this difficult time is critical to our heart health, and our overall health,” Dr. Grant Reed of the Cleveland Clinic said in the release.

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

The study found that, in essence, fear and not the virus was triggering “Broken Heart Syndrome.”

“The psychological, social, and economic distress accompanying the pandemic, rather than direct viral involvement and sequelae of the infection, are more likely factors associated with the increase in stress cardiomyopathy cases. This was further supported by negative COVID-19 testing results in all patients diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy in the study group,” the study found.

The study noted that it only sampled patients in northern Ohio and would need to be replicated in other places to determine if the pattern held up. The study also reported that its results might have been skewed by the fact that during the coronavirus pandemic, individuals may have avoided coming to the hospital.

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One commentator said the current times put human bodies through the wringer.

“We’re living in a sea of stress hormones every day,” Dr. Cynthia Ackrill,  a stress management expert, told CNN in May.

“We’re not designed for a constant application of these chemicals,” she said. “The stress hormone cortisol just ravages our bodies when it’s dumped into our system repeatedly.”

Stress affects different people in different ways, another expert told CNN for the May report.

“The predispositions that people have, whether it is asthma or a history of migraine or underlying cardiovascular risk factors, stress on all of those are so much more acute now,” neuroscientist Peter Kaufmann, associate dean for research and Innovation at Villanova University, told the network.

“People have daily stress and often times they don’t have any control over it. That’s when stress has its greatest impact.”

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