Stress cardiomyopathy: Covid-19 stress may cause very real 'broken hearts' .

Cleveland Clinic



A CONDITION described as ‘broken heart syndrome’, otherwise known as stress cardiomyopathy, has increased fourfold.

This increase, first reported with the publication of results of a study conducted by researchers at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA, has been attributed to the the extended lockdown, having to isolate and cancel special events, and not seeing friends and family for an extended period by Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for South Africa’s largest provider of heart medication, Pharma Dynamic.

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Jennings said she believes the Covid-19 pandemic and measures taken to limit the spread of the virus 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,” said Jennings.

These stressors are hard to cope with at any time, but being in the midst of a pandemic tends to turn up the stress level a few notches.


“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 – similar to a heart attack – but fortunately in most cases its effect is only temporary. The condition usually reverses itself within a few days or weeks,” she explained.

“At first, patients seem like they may have experienced a heart attack, but further examination reveals no signs of blocked coronary arteries or history of cardiovascular disease,” added Jennings.

“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.”

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While most patients who present with broken heart syndrome recover without any long-term effects, 10 percent may become critically ill and in about 1 or 2 cases per hundred, patients can die. It is advisable to always seek medical attention with symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath according to Jennings. “It should always be taken seriously as it could be a sign of a heart attack, which requires immediate action,” she added.

Emergency numbers

  • 10177 for an ambulance (nationwide)
  • 112 can also be dialed from a cellphone
  • Netcare911 will respond to emergencies whether you are a member or not. Dial: 082 911 or contact,
  • ER24: 084 124
“Once stabilised, your doctor may run a few tests, such as a coronary angiopathy or take X-rays to take a closer look at your coronary arteries. Other diagnostic tests include blood tests, ECG and an MRI. Your doctor may also put you on medication,” said Jennings.

Risk factors

Jennings lists some of the factors which might put a patient more at risk for broken heart syndrome as a history of a neurological condition such as epilepsy, previous or existing psychiatric disorder, such as depression and anxiety, and other factors like age.

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“Other symptoms include, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), cardiogenic shock, fainting and low blood pressure,” she said highlighting that as the pandemic progresses, self-care is of utmost importance to heart health.

“Being proactive about managing stress in your life is good for your heart and may help to prevent broken heart syndrome.”

“Those who feel anxious and overwhelmed by the pandemic – both physically and mentally – need to reach out to their GPs for help,” she said.

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