NewsYour Health MattersAsk Dr. Nandi

Cases of broken heart syndrome surge during COVID-19, especially in women

Hospital hallway
Posted at 2:23 PM, Feb 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-09 14:23:37-05

(WXYZ) — Cases of broken heart syndrome have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A team of American experts has been tracking this serious heart condition that strikes more women than men.

You would think that it’s a no-brainer that the pandemic is the number reason behind why cases have spiked. But a team of researchers from Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins University and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is still collecting data. And they have not concluded that the pandemic is to blame. In fact, it’s possible that this heart condition has been around for quite some time and it’s just now being recognized and diagnosed more often.

I have to say that I’ve seen this syndrome in patients and it’s not always brought on by the death of a loved one. The fancy scientific name for broken heart syndrome is takotsubo cardiomyopathy. What triggers this heart condition is severe, intense emotional and physical stress. So extreme grief can certainly trigger it, but so can other tragic life events like vehicle accidents, divorce, betrayal, sudden illness and even natural disasters like severe storms, floods and tornados.

Over the last decade, broken heart syndrome has increased up to 10% faster in post-menopausal women than in other groups. And while we don’t know with certainty why this is happening, it could be connected to the female hormone estrogen. Estrogen helps protect the heart and levels drop as women age. Of course, there are other risk factors that can play a role like depression, neurologic illness and anxiety.

Is it dangerous and can people die from it? The answer to both of those questions is yes. Here’s what happens. An intense surge of stress hormones stuns the heart, causing part of the heart to enlarge and not pump blood properly. People experience severe chest pain and shortness of breath. But thankfully, rarely does a person die from broken heart syndrome. That’s because it’s treatable. Most people recover fully with no long-term heart damage.

Now, you might be wondering what is the best way to avoid this broken heart syndrome? And my advice is to take care of yourself, especially your heart and your mental health. Be your own health hero. Get out and get moving. Find physical activities you enjoy doing. Life can be very stressful as we move through this pandemic, so be sure to find ways to relax and release stress.