Cleveland Clinic study: ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ cases on the rise during coronavirus pandemic


CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) — The coronavirus pandemic has caused stress for many as it’s unfolded the past few months.

Now, Cleveland Clinic researchers say in a new study that it’s leading to a rise in ‘Broken Heart Syndrome,’ a condition that causes symptoms similar to a heart attack.

“People are not only worried about themselves or their families becoming ill, they are dealing with economic and emotional issues, societal problems and potential loneliness and isolation,” said Ankur Kalra, M.D., a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist in the Sections of Invasive and Interventional Cardiology and Regional Cardiovascular Medicine, who led the study. “The stress can have physical effects on our bodies and our hearts, as evidenced by the increasing diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy we are experiencing.”


Broken Heart Syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, happens in response to physical or emotional distress. It causes dysfunction or failure in the heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath, but patients usually do not have acute blocked coronary arteries.

Other symptoms can include irregular heartbeat, fainting, low blood pressure and cardiogenic shock.


Physicians believe a person’s reaction to physically or emotionally stressful events cause a release of stress hormones that temporarily reduce the heart’s ability to pump, causing it to contract less efficiently or irregularly.

Study results

As part of the study, cardiologists looked at 258 patients coming into the Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Akron General with heart symptoms known as acute coronary syndrome between March 1 and April 30.

They compared the group with four control groups of such patients prior to the pandemic.

There was a 7.8 percent increase in patients diagnosed with Broken Heart Syndrome. And those with the condition during the pandemic had a longer length of hospital stay compared to those before the virus.

There wasn’t a significant difference in mortality. All patients with the condition tested negative for COVID-19.


Those with Broken Heart Syndrome generally recover their heart function and recover in a matter of days or weeks. It can occasionally cause more serious problems.

Treatment includes heart medications to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. Other medications could be prescribed to help with stress.


“While the pandemic continues to evolve, self-care during this difficult time is critical to our heart health, and our overall health,” said Grant Reed, M.D., M.Sc., director of Cleveland Clinic’s STEMI (ST-elevation myocardial infarction) program and senior author for the study. “For those who feel overwhelmed by stress, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider. Exercise, meditation and connecting with family and friends, while maintaining physical distance and safety measures, can also help relieve anxiety.”


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