Broken heart syndrome higher amid COVID-19 outbreak compared to previous years

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (orange)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (green) cultured in the lab.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — People across the country have been dealing with coronavirus-induced stress for months. Poor mental health is on the rise and spares no one–whether you’re a man or woman, younger or older, Black or white, Hispanic or Asian.

But COVID-19 induced stress may also be breaking our hearts–literally. 

Scientists have seen an increase in what’s called broken heart syndrome since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic back in March 2020. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, broken heart syndrome is “a heart condition that is brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions.” And the signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome, also called stress cardiomyopathy, the organization says, are equivalent to a heart attack. 

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio assessed 1,941 patients in two hospitals in the state and looked at the number of broken heart syndrome cases between March-April 2020 and compared them with 4 pre-pandemic time periods: March to April 2018, January to February 2019, March to April 2020 and January to February 2020. 

Results showed 20 hospitalized patients were diagnosed with broken heart syndrome between March and April 2020 compared to 5 to 12 in the four other periods combined. 

“The principal finding of our analysis provides an insight into the increasing incidence of stress cardiomyopathy during the pandemic,” researchers write in the paper published in JAMA. “The incidence of stress cardiomyopathy was significantly higher in patients…between March 1 and April 30, 2020 compared with the 4 pre-pandemic timelines.” 

The good news is that broken heart syndrome is transient and there is no evidence to support any long-term effects. Should you suspect you are at risk of broken heart syndrome, click here to find out the signs and symptoms. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.