Broken heart syndrome: Covid-19 is breaking our hearts, literally

13 September 2020 - 00:00 By
The symptoms of Broken heart syndrome mimic a heart attack — chest pains and shortness of breath.
The symptoms of Broken heart syndrome mimic a heart attack — chest pains and shortness of breath.
Image: 123RF/Noriko Cooper

Extended lockdown orders, having to isolate and cancel special events and not seeing friends and family for months is having a detrimental effect on the human heart.

According to new research, a condition described as "broken heart syndrome", otherwise known as stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo syndrome, has increased fourfold since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is also triggered by severe stress and extreme emotions, like dealing with the sudden loss of a family member or friend, divorce or major financial loss.

What is Takotsubo syndrome?

Commonly referred to as "broken heart syndrome", it's a temporary weakening of the heart muscle sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.

What causes it?

It seems to be triggered by traumatic events that cause a surge of adrenaline at levels that are harmful to the heart. A storm triggered in the immune system results in acute inflammation in the heart muscle. The heart muscle then spills inflammatory signals that circulate throughout the body.

The name?

"Takotsubo" originates from the Japanese word for "octopus pot", because the left ventricle of the heart changes into a shape similar to that of the pot.

Symptoms?

They mimic a heart attack — chest pains and shortness of breath.

Serious?

It can be fatal, but is often treatable and reversible and the risk of recurrence is low.

Risk factors?

These include age, a history of a neurological condition like epilepsy and previous or existing psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. Other symptoms include fainting, arrhythmia, cardiogenic shock and low blood pressure. 

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