‘Drastic increase’ in stress cardiomyopathy, aka broken-heart syndrome, during pandemic

Intense emotional or physical stress can trigger a reaction similar to a heart attack and a Northern Virginia cardiologist warns that what’s commonly called broken heart syndrome is becoming more common.

“What’s otherwise known as stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy seems to be getting more common in the past two decades, especially among women ages 50 to 75,” Dr. Sudip Saha, a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Tysons said.

Cases numbers have accelerated during the pandemic.

“Takotsubo syndrome is one cardiovascular condition that has shown a drastic increase in the general population during the time of COVID-19,” according to research published by the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Sudip Saha is a board certified cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente in Tysons. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

TTS triggers can include the death of a loved one, a serious argument or job loss. Physical stress triggers can happen, for example, after being in a car crash, surviving a choking episode, being severely injured or having a serious health problem.

The pandemic has caused a great deal of emotional and physical stress, as well as spurred an increased attention to heart health; so it’s not surprising we are seeing more of this phenomenon,” Saha said.

The condition is reversible if detected and diagnosed fairly quickly. It can be treated with medication.

“Typically one called a beta blocker medication that helps blunt the adrenaline response. And then over the course of a few weeks, usually people’s pumping function of their heart resumes back to normal,” Saha said.

Saha said he’s treated one patient who had a repeat episode, but it’s usually a one-and-done thing for most people.

Warning signs can mimic what someone experiences with a heart attack, which traditionally involves the blockage of an artery.

Symptoms that should cause someone to seek immediate medical care include chest pain, shortness of breath with activities, passing out and things that you’re not used to.

“Let us take care of you and figure it out because it can be hard to know if this is something that you have or not, but we have systems in place that can figure that out pretty quickly,” he said.

Preventive advice Saha gives encapsulates a general rule for life.

“Do what you can in your life to focus on the things that are important and reduce the stress in your life,” he said. “Easier said than done sometimes. But I think it’s really critically important for your overall health and well-being.”

Moreover, he said, “Do whatever you can to try to relieve the stress you can in your life, either through yoga, meditation and just mindfulness during your daily routine activities, focusing on the things that are important to you, especially during COVID-19,” Saha said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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