Cardiologists: Stress, trauma can stun and weaken heart muscles, causing broken heart syndrome
We have all heard, and probably at one point, experienced some sort of heart-wrenching situation or incident in our lives that made us feel like we were suffering from a broken heart. Cardiologists say stress or tragedy can stun and weaken the muscle, which could potentially lead to heart failure.
The surge in stress hormones is called broken heart syndrome, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
"Their EKG actually looks like they may be having a heart attack, the echo or the ultrasound of the heart shows that the heart function is very weak, but then when we take them to the cath lab to look for blockages, there are none," said Yale Medicine cardiologist Dr. Joyce Oen-Hsiao.
Oen-Hsiao says the rare condition follows major traumas or tragedies and is usually seen most often in older women.
"It's kind of like this one sudden thing. We'll have patients who say, 'I was fighting with my husband and then I had shortness of breath and chest pain,' and that's what brings them into the hospital," Oen-Hsiao said.
Experts say broken heart syndrome has been on the rise over the last few years, including among men and younger patients, rising from around less than 1% to around 5% to 7%.
Oen-Hsiao says extra stress from the pandemic is partly to blame.
"Any little incident on top of this higher baseline stress level will cause the hormone surge and cause that weakness of the heart," said Oen-Hsiao.
The heart can usually repair itself with medication and a few months' time. Doctors say if you have cardiac symptoms like chest pains, you shouldn't wait to call for help.
Doctors say the body's inflammatory response to COVID-19 may also contribute to broken heart syndrome.