Stress from the coronavirus pandemic might be breaking people's hearts... literally.
The coronavirus epidemic has had far-reaching consequences, even for those who weren't infected by the virus. A study conducted by the Cleveland Clinic that was published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open on Thursday, July 9th, addresses one of them. It reveals that a significant increase in the number of "broken heart syndrome" cases was observed in two hospitals in Ohio (USA), in patients who did not suffer from COVID-19.
A trend that has been on the rise for several months
Takotsubo syndrome, more commonly known as "broken heart syndrome," occurs when heart muscles weaken, causing chest pain and difficulty breathing. Although it resembles a heart attack, this condition is not triggered by obstructed blood circulation, but rather by stressful situations. Patients usually recover within a few days or weeks, although it can be fatal in some cases.
To reach their conclusions, scientists compared patients who suffered from heart problems last spring with patients who have had similar problems in the past two years. A total of 1,914 medical records from five 2-month periods were examined. In the end, they found a "significant increase in patients diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome, editor's note), reaching 7.8% compared with pre-pandemic incidence of 1.7%."
An unhealthy environment
This increase is likely related to "psychological, social and economic stress" induced by "imposed quarantine, lack of social interaction, strict physical distancing rules, and its economic consequences in people's lives," say the researchers. "The pandemic has created a parallel environment that is not healthy," cardiologist Ankur Kalra, who led the study, told CNN. "Emotional distancing is not healthy. Its economic impact is not healthy..."
However, this study does have limitations. Further research will be needed to determine whether these conclusions still hold outside of those two hospitals. Cardiologist John Horowitz, who was interviewed by CNN, questions the researchers' methodology. Only patients who received cardiac catheterization were studied, which could lead to biases in the sample. "They might be completely right. I don't object to the hypothesis. I object to the statistical methods."
Either way, the fact that the current situation has had serious psychological consequences remains undeniable. Last May, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that "the impact of the pandemic on people's mental health is already extremely worrying."