Usually when we say we’ll die of heartbreak, we’re exaggerating just a little. That doesn’t mean that it’s technically impossible, though. The emotional pain we feel after the loss of a loved one – regardless of the cause – can have very real cardiac side-effects. It sounds like a made-up thing, but this “broken heart syndrome” is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and the number of cases have been increasing as the COVID-19 pandemic grows. Though the name may imply that this condition is triggered by break-ups, any stress will do the trick – and we can’t deny that there’s a lot of that going around.
What exactly is broken heart syndrome?
According to ScienceDaily.com, stress cardiomyopathy “occurs in response to physical or emotional distress and causes dysfunction or failure in the heart muscle”. Symptoms look much like a heart attack – shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular heart beats and fainting. In fact, blood tests would even show up as a heart attack, and as a result, stress cardiomyopathy is often misdiagnosed as such. Unlike a heart attack, though, it usually doesn’t involve acutely blocked coronary arteries, and can even happen to fit and healthy individuals.
According to The American Heart Association, “women are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain — the reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event”. (as if we didn’t have enough to deal with).
“It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. It could even happen after a good shock (like winning the lottery.)”
According to Caitlin O’Kane at CBS News, broken heart syndrome was first identified in Japan almost 30 years ago. In 2012 alone, it claimed over 6000 lives in the United States. There may even have been a few famous cases of the condition.
“When Debbie Reynolds died one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, many speculated the motherWhile Reynolds’ cause of death was a stroke, her son Todd Fisher said his sister’s death was ‘just too much’ for her”.
What’s going on now?
A study of 1,914 acute coronary syndrome patients by Cleveland Clinic researchers found that, compared to before the pandemic, cases of this condition have risen by 7.8%. It also found that these new cases required longer hospital stays than they would have before COVID-19.
The study was led by Ankur Kalra, M.D., a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist in the Sections of Invasive and Interventional Cardiology and Regional Cardiovascular Medicine. According to Kalra, “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about multiple levels of stress in people’s lives across the country and world. People are not only worried about themselves or their families becoming ill, they are dealing with economic and emotional issues, societal problems and potential loneliness and isolation.”
“The stress can have physical effects on our bodies and our hearts, as evidenced by the increasing diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy we are experiencing.”
It’s clear that now, more than ever, self-care is essential. Exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, and reaching out to loved ones can help, but it’ll depend on each individual to find the things that help them best. Don’t forget to check on the wellbeing of your family and friends too, as not everyone having a hard time will reach out and tell people about it.
Here at Essential Millennial, we’ll continue to bring you ideas about how to fight the stress and keep healthy during this difficult year. In the meantime, check out some of our previous self-care articles:
- 20 Reasons to Take up Meditation in 2020
- How to be Alone: The Science of Solitude
- Journaling the Pandemic: You Could be Writing History
- The Millennial’s Guide to Surviving Self-Isolation.
- How to Focus on Yourself in a Distracting World
- Who Needs Gym When You Have Youtube?
Fortunately, this condition is treatable and only rarely fatal. The increasing number of cases, however, is a clear – and rather alarming – indication of the way this year is taking its toll on our wellbeing whether or not we actually catch COVID-19.
If you experience any chest pain and difficulty breathing for whatever reason, be sure to contact your physician.