St. Charles cardiologist reports increase in cases of broken heart syndrome

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - A new study finds broken heart syndrome has increased during this coronavirus pandemic.  

So what is broken heart syndrome?

"Broken heart syndrome or stress-induced cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart is not moving correctly, similar as to how it does in a heart attack -- except it's in the absence of blockages in the coronary arteries which is what causes a normal heart attack," said Dr. Aaron Tang, a cardiologist with the SSM Health Medical Group in St. Charles County.  "It presents in a similar way as a traditional heart attack with chest discomfort and shortness of breath, but it's induced usually by a large physical trauma or maybe an emotional stress such as the loss of a family member or something along those lines."

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic studied patients at two hospitals with heart trouble during the early peak of the pandemic.

"And what they did was they took a period of time between April and June," Dr. Tang tells KMOX.  "They noticed there was an increase in the incidence of broken heart syndrome as compared to other slices of time before the pandemic period.  Their assumption with this data was that potentially, the increased stress associated with the quarantine, unemployment, and other pandemic issues is a cause for this."

Dr. Tang says broken heart syndrome generally occurs in about 1-2% of all heart attack cases but he has seen it much more lately.

"We see these cases often.  We saw one actually last week," said Dr. Tang.  "A woman that was having a high emotional stress situation at home came in with chest discomfort and when we did the cardiac catheterization, it didn't show any significant blockages to the arteries to explain what was going on so that was chalked up to having broken heart syndrome."

But Tang says these cases are rarely fatal.

"Often people who have broken heart syndrome are more likely to recover their heart function -- in comparison to people who have traditional heart attacks," said Dr. Tang.  "But there are some people who can have fatal outcomes from this -- it's just more rare."

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