Broken Heart Syndrome

Scientists are uncovering new information about the COVID-19 virus with every passing day, and we are constantly learning about the direct and indirect effects of this pandemic. A group of researchers at Cleveland Clinic has found a significant increase over the past several months of patients experiencing broken heart syndrome.

In clinical terms, broken heart syndrome is called cardiomyopathy, and refers to dysfunction or failure of the heart muscles. The symptoms are similar to a heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath, but also include irregular heartbeat, fainting, low blood pressure, or even cardiogenic shock. Typically, people experiencing broken heart syndrome don’t have acutely blocked coronary arteries, but may show enlargement of heart ventricles.

Exactly how much broken heart syndrome are hospitals seeing these days? The Cleveland Clinic study reveals that since early March, 7.8% of patients have been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, compared with only 1.7% prior to the pandemic. These patients also experience longer hospital stays, though there is no significant difference in mortality. Patients with cardiomyopathy generally recover with no long term issues, though in some instances, broken heart syndrome can lead to major cardiovascular conditions. 

There is still a lot of ambiguity surrounding broken heart syndrome and what causes it. However, physicians believe that it might be the body’s response to acutely stressful events. When a person experiences a physically or emotionally stressful event, the body releases stress hormones which, physicians believe, reduce the heart’s ability to pump blood. 

How should we best take care of ourselves and our loved ones to avoid broken heart syndrome? Dr. Grant Reed of Cleveland Clinic says, “While the pandemic continues to evolve, self-care during this difficult time is critical to our heart health, and our overall health.” Dr. Reed suggests exercise, meditation, and connecting with loved ones as great ways to practice self care. So our to-do list for you today is simple: continue to check-in with yourself and the people you care about, do things that bring you joy, and look for the good in each day.