Physician breaks down stress and COVID-19

Physicians in the U.S. report having seen an increase in stress-induced cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, physicians in the U.S. report having seen an increase in stress-induced cardiomyopathy — also known as broken heart syndrome — according to a study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The increased rate of heart problems, doctors say, is due to economic, physical and social stressors.

Purvi Parwani, MD, a Loma Linda University International Heart Institute cardiovascular disease specialist, says COVID-19 has led to emotional, physical and financial stress in lives across the world.

“Loneliness and isolation during a pandemic coupled with multiple levels of duties at home and added economic burden has our patients worried,” Parwani says.

Stress-induced cardiomyopathy can occur in response to emotional or physical stress, which can prohibit the heart muscle to pump. When this happens, patients can experience similar symptoms to that of a heart attack, such as shortness of breath, chest pain or palpitations. However, this type of stress generally doesn’t go so far as producing acute blockage of the arteries.

"We all know personal stories of ourselves or loved ones who feel overwhelmed by the nation's current state," Parwani says. "If we are not careful about managing our stress properly, it can have detrimental effects on your cardiovascular health.”

Parwani offers these three tips to reduce stress and protect one of your most vital organs:

  1. Breathe or meditate. Breathing deeply and meditating is one of the strongest and easiest ways to reduce stress. When you breathe deeply, it causes your body to return to a relaxed state gradually. Meditation can offer the same relief when you take a second to think, breathe and let stress leave your body.
  2. Exercise or walk. Exercising releases natural endorphins that can lift your mood. Regularly exercising or going for walks can lift your mood and reduce stress. Walking can also be an easy option for getting fresh air, which can also be mood-boosting.
  3. Connect with others. Social connection has declined since stay-at-home orders have been placed. Without that social connection, many people have become sad in isolation. Parwani suggests finding alternative ways to connect with others through the use of technology, writing letters or even making phone calls.

If any of your symptoms are also accompanied by dizziness, fainting spells or shortness of breath, contact your doctor immediately. These symptoms combined can be an identifier of a more significant cardiovascular health issue.