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If You Have This One Condition, It May Be COVID-19

Researchers have discovered a new side effect of coronavirus: Broken Heart Syndrome.
Woman suffering from chest pain indoor

COVID-19 has broken down life as we knew it. Now a new study shows it might break your heart. In a work published in JAMA Network Open and released by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in two Ohio hospitals set out to ask: "Is psychological, social, and economic stress associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) associated with the incidence of stress cardiomyopathy?" Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or "Broken Heart Syndrome" is when the heart muscle becomes suddenly weakened. Their answer? "These findings suggest that psychological, social, and economic stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with an increased incidence of stress cardiomyopathy."

How It Feels to Have Broken Heart Syndrome

"Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure," says the Mayo Clinic. "There might be no signs or symptoms in the early stages of cardiomyopathy. But as the condition advances, signs and symptoms usually appear, including:

  • Breathlessness with exertion or even at rest
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet
  • Bloating of the abdomen due to fluid buildup
  • Cough while lying down
  • Fatigue
  • Heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding or fluttering
  • Chest discomfort or pressure
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting

Signs and symptoms tend to get worse unless treated. In some people, the condition worsens quickly; in others, it might not worsen for a long time."

"The study examined 1,914 patients from five distinct two-month periods—250 of which had been hospitalized in March and April—who presented Acute Coronary Syndrome," reports Fox News. "They compared those patients to others who had shown similar problems across four timelines during the course of the last two years. The study found the incidence of stress cardiomyopathy, or Takotsubo Syndrome, increased by a significant 7.8 percent during the pandemic's initial apex, compared with prepandemic incidences that ranged from 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent. The findings suggest that psychological, social and economic stress related to the coronavirus are associated with the increase."

At the end of the study, the authors reported: "This study found that there was a significant increase in the incidence of stress cardiomyopathy during the COVID-19 pandemic when compared with prepandemic periods."

What This Means For You

The Cleveland Clinic researchers noted some limitations, including the fact that "while our study examined patients from 2 hospitals within our health system, our sample represents the population of Northeast Ohio in the US. The results should be interpreted with caution when applied to other states or countries."

Still, they were struck by what they discovered. "The association between stress cardiomyopathy and increasing levels of stress and anxiety has long been established," the report's authors wrote. "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."

"There may still be an association of COVID-19 with Takotsubo-like cardiomyopathy," Kalra and co-authors wrote. "Few patients with Takotsubo syndrome with underlying COVID-19 have been reported in the literature. The mechanism behind this type of myocardial injury in patients with COVID-19 remains to be elucidated."

Have a heart: To stay healthy during these dangerous times, use best practices to keep yourself and others safe. Wash your hands frequently, wear a face mask, avoid crowds, social distance, only run essential errands, monitor your health and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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