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Covid-19 pandemic has led to increase in 'broken heart syndrome'

Published Aug 21, 2020


CAPE TOWN- While scientists are slowly unravelling the full impact of Covid-19 on physical health, some research has focused on

people's mental health and stress associated with the pandemic.

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A recent American study revealed that cases of 'broken heart syndrome', otherwise known as stress cardiomyopathy, has increased fourfold since the start of the pandemic. This is according to a study conducted by researchers at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

The study found that there was a significant increase in the incidence of stress cardiomyopathy during the Covid-19 pandemic when compared with pre-pandemic periods.

South African journalist, Suna Venter, died in 2017 of 'broken heart syndrome' at the age of 32. Her family believed it had been caused by trauma and prolonged periods of unnatural stress.

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Spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, Nicole Jennings, says the extended lockdown orders, having to isolate and cancel special events, and not seeing friends and family for an extended period has had a profound impact on our hearts.

“In most cases, broken heart syndrome is triggered by severe stress and extreme emotions, such as having to deal with the sudden loss of a loved one, divorce or a major financial loss. The unexpected rush of adrenaline weakens the heart muscle, causing irregular heart rhythms. It also interferes with the pumping function of the heart, causing a ballooning effect. Sufferers may experience sudden chest pain and shortness of breath," she said.

The study included 1914 patients with acute coronary syndrome and found there was a significant increase in the incidence of stress cardiomyopathy. In addition, none of the patients with stress cardiomyopathy were infected with Covid-19, suggesting an indirect, psychological, social, and economic pandemic-related stress mechanism behind the disease process.

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Jennings said, “the pandemic has caused severe psychological, social and economic stress in people’s lives all over the world. This research gives us a glimpse into the broader impact that Covid-19 has had – not only on those with pre-existing health conditions, but also the broader population".

While most recover from broken heart syndrome without any long-term effects, 10% become critically ill and in 1-2% of cases it can be fatal.

Risk factors for broken heart syndrome include age, a history of a neurological condition such as epilepsy, previous or existing psychiatric disorder, such as depression and anxiety. Other symptoms include, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), cardiogenic shock, fainting and low blood pressure.

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Medical emergency numbers to save to your phone are as follows:

· 10177 for an ambulance (nationwide)

· 112 can also be dialled from a cellphone

· Netcare911 will respond to emergencies whether you are a member or not. Dial: 082 911 or contact,

· ER24: 084 124

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