Study finds increase in broken heart syndrome cases during COVID-19 pandemic: All you need to know about this condition
Nearly 7.8 percent of patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS) are being diagnosed with broken heart syndrome during the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to the 1.5-1.8 percent before the pandemic
Nearly 7.8 percent of patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS) are being diagnosed with broken heart syndrome during the COVID-19 pandemic as compared to the 1.5-1.8 percent before the pandemic, a recent study by the Cleveland Clinic has shown.
Broken heart syndrome also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or stress cardiomyopathy is a condition that presents with symptoms similar to that of a heart attack and is often misdiagnosed as one. However, unlike a heart attack that occurs due to blockage in a blood vessel in the heart, broken heart syndrome usually occurs due to stress and is characterised by the weakening of the left ventricle of the heart — the part that pumps blood to the body.
ACS is a term used for a number of conditions where the blood supply to a part of the heart is stopped or blocked suddenly. It usually presents with chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, sweating and pain in the arms, back, jaw, neck or stomach.
Stress is a major cause of the broken heart syndrome.
Explaining the findings of the study, Dr Ankur Kalra, the lead author of the study and a clinical cardiologist at the intensive and interventional cardiology and regional cardiovascular medicine section of the Cleveland Clinic said in a news release, “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought multiple levels of stress in everyone’s life. People are not just worried about themselves or their families getting sick, but also they are dealing with emotional and financial issues, social problems, potential loneliness and isolation… All this stress can have physical effects on the body as is apparent with the increased cases of cardiomyopathy.”’
The findings of the study are published in JAMA Network Open, a journal by the American Medical Association.
For the study, Dr Kalra and his colleagues studied a total of 1,914 patients admitted to hospitals for ACS before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of these, 290 patients were from March-April 2018, 309 from Jan-Feb 2019, 679 from March-Apr 2019, and 278 from Jan -Feb 2020. About 258 patients were included in the COVID-19 cohort and were admitted during March-Apr 2020.
Most of the patients were male (66.1 percent men in pre- COVID-19 and 67.8 percent men in COVID-19 period) and their average age was 67 years (59-74 years in pre- COVID-19 and 57-75 in COVID-19 period). Out of the 258 patients in the COVID-19 cohort, about 20 showed stress cardiomyopathy, while the number was around 5 to 12 patients in the rest of the groups.
Also, during the pandemic, patients with broken heart syndrome had to stay longer in the hospital (8 days) as compared to the pre-pandemic times (4-5 days).
Broken heart syndrome
Broken heart syndrome affects more women than men. It can occur due to any number of stresses ranging from a serious illness, a surgery, an asthma attack, receiving bad news, being scared or a sudden surprise. Most commonly, a person with broken heart syndrome does not have any history of heart disease.
It presents with symptoms like chest pain, irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, shortness of breath and fainting.
Diagnosis: Despite symptomatic similarities with a heart attack, the broken heart syndrome has some unique features that are used to diagnose it. An EKG and blood tests will not show any signs of a heart attack but there will be unusual movement of the affected heart chamber.
Treatment: There is no known treatment for broken heart syndrome. The condition is treated with heart failure medications. The heart muscles are not permanently damaged so most patients recover quickly.
The condition is rarely life-threatening, although about 20 percent of patients develop heart failure.
Things to consider
The authors pointed out one possible limitation of the study. All the patients in the study were from one area in the USA. The results may be different in other areas of the country or in different countries.
Additionally, it is worth noting that the study by the Cleveland Clinic mostly included men. Since broken heart syndrome occurs more commonly in women, that may also need to be accounted for.
For more information, read our article on Heart disease.
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