The coronavirus epidemic is fraught with consequences, even for those not directly affected by the infection as evidenced in a study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open on Thursday, July 9. The study reveals that in two hospitals in Ohio, a significant increase in the number of cases of “broken heart syndrome” was observed, in patients who did not suffer from Covid-19.
Increased number of cases
Takotsubo syndrome, more commonly known as “broken heart syndrome”, occurs when the heart muscles weaken, causing chest pain and shortness of breath. If it looks like a heart attack, the pathology is not triggered by blockages in the blood circulation, but by stressful events. Patients usually recover within a few days or weeks, although in rare cases it can be fatal.
To reach their conclusions, the scientists compared the cases of patients who suffered from heart problems this spring with cases of individuals who had similar problems in the past two years. A total of 1,914 medical records over five separate two-month periods were searched. The researchers observed a “significant increase in the number of patients diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome), reaching 7.8% compared to a pre-pandemic incidence of 1.7%”.
An unhealthy environment
The increase has been linked to “psychological, social and economic stress” induced by “imposed quarantine, lack of social interaction, strict rules of physical distancing and its economic consequences in people’s lives”, say the researchers. “The pandemic has created an unhealthy parallel environment,” cardiologist Ankur Kalra, director of the study, told CNN. “Emotional distancing is not healthy. The economic impact is not healthy […].”
However, this research has its limits. More work will be required to determine if these results are valid elsewhere than in these two hospitals. In addition, cardiologist John Horowitz, interviewed by CNN, questions the methodology used. Only patients who received cardiac catheterization would have been studied, which could lead to sample bias. “They may be absolutely right. I do not object to the assumption. I object to the statistical methods.”
It remains undeniable that the current situation has important psychological consequences. Last May, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned: “The impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely worrying”.
Marquis was born in Paris, France and emigrated to United States at the early age of 5. He gained a medical degree from the University of Michigan and has worked as a dermatologist for over 10 years. He covers a wide-range of health related subjects for the Scientific Origin.