Broken Heart Syndrome is a real thing, and we’re seeing the damage from this increase during the pandemic.
“Broken heart syndrome — which is, in fact, a real thing — is when someone finds out some shocking news, typically terrible news, and there’s a massive release of these stress hormones that are released into the bloodstream, and the heart is then bombarded with these stress hormones,” said Dr. Matthew Lorber, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
“This could be the news, certainly, of a loved one dying, which is where the ‘broken heart syndrome’ name comes from. This could be the news of getting a divorce. This could be a boss coming in and telling you you’re fired — anything that can cause intense stress,” Lorber said.
‘Broken Heart Syndrome is also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is the technical term for ‘broken heart syndrome.’ It actually presents like a heart attack, but instead of there being a blockage like with a heart attack, there is not. Even though most recover, in some rare instances it can be deadly.
One day after actress Carrie Fisher’s death at age 60, her mother, actress and singer Debbie Reynolds, died unexpectedly of unknown causes. Many people have said it was due to broken heart syndrome.
Broken heart syndrome is often referred to as “stress-induced cardiomyopathy,” where cardiomyopathy refers to a weakening of the heart muscle.
In rare cases of a weak heart unable to take the rapid changes induced by stress, broken heart syndrome “can lead to fluid actually getting into the lungs. It could lead to dangerous changes in blood pressure. It can even lead to heart attack, which can lead to death,” Lorber said.
Though broken heart syndrome is not completely understood, the stress-induced theory has earned support from doctors focused on mental health. “In general, we know that there’s a tie between cardiac health — heart health — and mental health,” Lorber said. He added that people who have untreated depression and those with untreated anxiety disorders are “at a higher risk for having heart disease and heart attacks.”
“The most likely reason for this is, depression and anxiety cause a release of stress hormones that get into the bloodstream and impact the heart,” Lorber said. “The more your heart is exposed to this, the more likely you are to have a heart attack.”
During the Coronavirus pandemic, more cases of this have been seen recently.
It’s more typical for broken heart syndrome to go away quickly, with no long-term consequences. Those who wander into an ER are treated symptomatically, their doctors simply verifying that they did not, indeed, have a heart attack.
However, with this recent pandemic, more people are being treated for Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
A small study conducted in 2 hospitals have noticed an increase of the “Broken Heart Syndrome” during the pandemic, and honestly it seems logical with all of the stress people are under.
The study suggests that psychological, social, and economic stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with an increased incidence of stress cardiomyopathy.
In the study at two Ohio hospitals, they have noticed a significant increase. These are patients that do not have the coronavirus. These doctors believe that the stressors caused by the pandemic, whether they be social, physical, or economic are taking a physical toll on people.
“Our study says that stress cardiomyopathy has gone up because of the stress that the pandemic has created,” states Dr. Ankur Kalra, the cardiologist who led the study.
There is a lot of technical information in the published study, but the results are simple enough for anyone to understand: the stress you’re feeling is real and you’re not alone. Others are facing the same battles and they’re physically affecting them too.
Overall, compared to pre-pandemic statistics, more people are now facing the affects of broken heart syndrome.
According to the study results, people are twice as likely to develop stress cardiomyopathy now than they were 6 months ago before the virus became a global issue. This is due to the toll it’s taking on our mental health, which in turn affects our physical health.
So, what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones?
Reach out to others. In a time of distancing and isolation, the most important thing we can do for each other is remind folks that they are valued, loved, and cared for. Show some compassion, Focus less on the dreaded stats and increasing numbers, and take some time for your own mental health.
Not many people die from broken heart syndrome, but it does happen. Considering hypertension is directly related to stress, and is one of the top co-morbidities for Covid-19, the best thing you can do is find your happy place and practice self-care.
Your mental health is more important than you know. Take care of it, and help others to take care of theirs. We’re all we’ve really got in this world.