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Study: More people dying of ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ during pandemic

Researchers at Cleveland Clinic say the pandemic has been hard on our hearts, even healthy ones
Published: Jul. 17, 2020 at 4:25 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A new study suggests the coronavirus pandemic is causing more people to get very sick or die from “Broken Heart Syndrome.”

We’ve heard cases, for instance, of a husband and wife married for a long time dying withing days or hours of each other.

Now it’s becoming more common. Doctors say this new research is not at all surprising.

Staying home, social distancing, canceled activities, no school vacations or trips to visit family -- it’s hard on all of us. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic say it’s especially hard on our hearts, even otherwise healthy ones.

“(The) cause of this condition is stress,” Dr. Scott Weslow, an interventional cardiologist at Aurora BayCare Cardiology, says. “About 20 to 30 percent of the time, that stressor is an emotional one, not a physical one: loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, a financial loss, gambling.”

Dr. Weslow says that sudden, intense stress causes a rush of adrenaline. So much so, it quickly weakens the heart muscle.

“They come in and they look like a heart attack, and they treat them as such, but then when we go into the cath lab and look for the blockage causing the heart attack, they don’t have blockages in their arteries typically,” he says.

Weslow says Broken Heart Syndrome -- medically known as takotsubo, or stress-induced, cardiomyopathy -- is fatal 1 to 2 percent of the time and makes people critically ill in 10 percent of cases.

“It’s kind of a stunned heart at first, and it just takes time to recover from that stunning,” the doctor explains.

While recovery usually comes in a few days or weeks, this new study comparing cases before and during the pandemic suggests the virus is severely stressing more people.

“We think it might be increasing during the COVID pandemic because of the anxiety and stress from emotional and physical isolation.”

Weslow says his hospital usually treats people with Broken Heart Syndrome once or twice a month. The doctor says most people with this condition are in their 60s and women are much more likely to fall ill than men.

While he’s not personally seeing an increase right now, the research is not unexpected.

“I think this just adds to the evidence that social isolation, physical isolation is not good for us. We’re not supposed to be living like that, and it’s not good for emotional health, and it’s not good for our physical health,” Dr. Weslow says.

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