The correlation between our lifestyle and various heart conditions is widely researched: high-fat diets contribute to coronary artery disease, obesity and sedentary routines increase the risk of deadlier heart attacks. But the pathology of one elusive heart condition remains a mystery.
“Broken Heart Syndrom”, or Takotsubo, is a condition described when a person experiences sudden, heart-attack-like symptoms of chest pain or difficulty breathing, but their heart is going through something else entirely. While a regular heart attack usually occurs because a blocked artery closes off blood supply to a section of the heart, leaving it hungry for oxygen, imaging for patients with Takotsubo reveal that their coronaries are completely intact – but their left ventricle has swollen like a balloon.
The team investigated over 130,000 documented cases of “Broken Heart Syndrome” that were registered in the National Inpatient Sample database in the United States between 2006-2017.
Takotsubo, on the other hand, sees 88% female cases, according to the study, and an increase of 128 cases per million per year among middle-aged women, in contrast to 96 cases per million per year in older women and 15 in younger women.
Among men, the incidence rate rose as well, but far less substantially.
One of the possible reasons for the overall rise in cases is the fact that the condition became more well known in medical communities and the imaging methods to identify it – namely, echocardiograms – have become far more advanced and accessible over the past two decades.
But what causes “Broken Heart Syndrome” in the first place? The temporary “apical ballooning” syndrome often occurs after a stressful ordeal, and can also be triggered by injury, illness or surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
“This particular study helps to clarify that women of a certain age range are disproportionately at higher risk for stress cardiomyopathy,” said Christine M. Albert, MD, MPH, one of the authors of the paper, to EurekAlert. “The upswing could be due to changes in susceptibility, the environment, or both.”
“There appears to be an association between stress-induced cardiomyopathy and COVID-19 in both the general population reeling from the adverse psychosocial effects of the pandemic and in COVID-19 patients,” indicates the paper. “Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is ultimately one of many consequences of the virus that warrants further research into how best to approach patient care.”