Your COVID Stress Could Cause This Deadly Heart Condition, Study Finds

People with no history of heart disease can end up in the hospital with this.

There seems to be no end to the widely varied symptoms and conditions that COVID-19 can cause. In the months since the pandemic began, doctors and researchers have uncovered a litany of ways in which the disease can affect the human body. The most concerning involve major organs, such as the lungs, brain, and heart. A study posted to the JAMA Open Network on July 9 reveals yet another specific venue through which coronavirus can attack your heart: researchers are seeing an increase in patients battling broken heart syndrome, and they believe that it's being indirectly brought on by coronavirus.

Despite its name, broken heart syndrome was not invented for the purposes of a romance novel. The condition is very real, though usually not life-threatening. According to the Cleveland Clinic, where the study was done, the term broken heart syndrome refers to "a group of symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, occurring in response to a physical or emotional stress." Patients suffering from it often believe that they are having a heart attack, but the key difference is that their arteries are not blocked. Therefore, though part of their heart becomes enlarged and unable to effectively pump blood, most broken heart syndrome patients recover quickly with treatment. According to the American Heart Association, fatal cases are very rare.

Woman in grocery store wearing a mask and looking in wallet
Shutterstock/eldar nurkovic

The Cleveland Clinic says that women—particularly post-menopausal Asian and Caucasian women—are more likely to experience broken heart syndrome than men. Many people who suffer from it are otherwise healthy and may have no history of heart disease. It is also referred to as stress cardiomyopathy or takotsubo syndrome. And it's usually brought on by stressors, which can include, per the Cleveland Clinic, "the death of a loved one, a divorce, the breakup of a romantic relationship, an asthma attack, an exhausting physical event, or even happy occurrences…"

For this study, researchers compared five cohorts of patients across two Cleveland Clinic hospitals—four who were hospitalized over a period before the pandemic, and one after. In those earlier eight-week periods, there were between five and 12 cases of broken heart syndrome recorded. But the fifth period, amid coronavirus, saw 20 patients deal with the condition.

"The increase in socioeconomic and psychological stress from the pandemic has literally increased stress cardiomyopathy," Ankur Kalra, MD, interventional cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and coauthor of the study told NBC News. Noting that broken heart syndrome is not a symptom of COVID-19 itself, he highlighted that is does appear to be "a new health hazard which the pandemic has caused because of other stressors that the pandemic has caused."

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The coronavirus pandemic has put extra strain on Americans, who may be worried about their finances, their own health, and the health of their loved ones. Many are also coping with these issues in isolation or relative isolation and don't have access to some activities that may relieve stress. Because of the dangers stress can pose to the heart, the study's researchers are emphatic that people experiencing symptoms get treated immediately instead of avoiding the hospital because of coronavirus.

"When you think you need to seek care, you should seek care," said Kalra.

And for more on your cardiovascular health, here are 30 Ways to Lower Your Heart Attack Risk You Didn't Know About.

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