Coronavirus Pandemic fuels rise in “Broken Heart Syndrome”

(NBC News) The coronavirus pandemic is hurting Americans’ health, even among those who have not contracted the virus.

Cases of stress cardiomyopathy, also known as “Broken Heart Syndrome,” are on the rise.

Waves of stress began sweeping over Rick Watkins this spring.

The pandemic, furloughs at work and a sick grandchild were all weighing on his mind.

“I felt I was good at internalizing things. It didn’t turn out to be the case,” Watkins says.

Then his father passed away. The morning of the funeral, Watkins fell ill.

“I had some ringing in my ears, my arms started to go numb, so I just sat back down in the chair and that was it. I was out,” he recalls.

It wasn’t a heart attack, but stress cardiomyopathy, which occurs when one part of the heart stops pumping normally.

“The heart becomes very weak,” explains the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Grant Reed. “It’s similar to a heart attack, but the coronary arteries aren’t the reason. This is your body’s response to profound stress.”

Interventional cardiologist Dr. Ankur Kalra co-authored a study that finds the rate of Cleveland Clinic patients with stress cardiomyopathy went from an average of less than two percent during the last two years to nearly eight percent in March and April, the start of the pandemic.

“People need to take a special effort to take care of themselves,” Dr. Reed says. “This isn’t going to be a sprint, it’s going to be a marathon. And we need to be mindful of all the different effects the pandemic is going to have on our health.”

Symptoms are similar to a heart attack: Chest pain and shortness of breath. With immediate treatment most patients recover.

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