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Can stress break a heart? 'Broken Heart Syndrome' spikes during pandemic

"Broken Heart Syndrome" is a rare heart condition caused by severe physical and emotional stress

COLUMBUS, Ohio — During American Heart Month, 10TV is sharing tips on how we can all take better care of our hearts. 

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death in women, but cases of a rare heart condition known as "broken heart syndrome" are on the rise.

A serious car accident and four major surgeries caused it for Debra Jones.

"I wrote a letter saying goodbye to everybody because I really thought I was dying at that point in time," she said. 

In November 2011, she was diagnosed with Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, or "broken heart syndrome." 

The condition is caused when the heart's main pumping chamber is weakened, and it is tied to severe emotional or physical stress. In other words, it is a potentially deadly stress-induced heart attack. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Sudden onset of chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations: faster heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting

"It can be anything from an illness or an emotional trigger like fear, anxiety, or stress. We've seen it in people who've had the loss of a loved one, "Dr. Jim Liu, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Women are 10 times more likely to get it than men, and it's more common in middle-aged women, older women, and post-menopausal women. Studies suggest cases have spiked during the pandemic. 

"There could've been emotional triggers or if you've gotten sick from COVID, that could be enough to trigger a stress-induced heart problem also," Dr. Liu said. 

Dr. Liu said there is no real way to prevent broken heart syndrome, but you can take care of your heart by maintaining a heart-healthy diet, getting enough sleep and physical exercise, and staying on top of chronic diseases like high cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes.

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