Cases of "broken heart syndrome" are on the rise in the United States, especially among middle-aged women, according to a new study.
The syndrome, more formally known as takotsubo or stress cardiomyopathy, produces symptoms that feel like a heart attack — weakened heart muscles, shortness of breath and chest pain. But it is instead caused by physical or emotional stress that leads the heart muscles to dysfunction, and it is far less deadly. Most patients recover in a few days.
Research published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that women ages 50 to 74 were "the most prominent at-risk group" for broken heart syndrome.
Using data from the National Inpatient Sample database, researchers studied 135,463 cases of broken heart syndrome reported between 2006 to 2017. While the diagnoses increased across both sexes and all age groups, "the increase over time has been especially pronounced among women aged [over] 50 years," according to the study.
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"There is something potentially going on around the perimenopausal period such that just beyond 50 and up until age 74," Dr. Susan Cheng, a senior author of the study and director of public health research at Cedars-Sinai's Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles, told Today.
She added, "There's this window of opportunity for the condition to develop in women. Their heart is vulnerable."
Last year, a small study found that cases of broken heart syndrome were increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic say that they have "found a significant increase" in patients with broken heart syndrome over the last four months, compared to previous years. Between March 1 and April 30, cardiologists saw 258 patients with acute coronary syndrome, and of those, 7.8 percent had broken heart syndrome, compared to 1.7 percent prior to the pandemic.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about multiple levels of stress in people's lives across the country and world. 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 Dr. Ankur Kalra, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic who led the study, published in JAMA Network Open, in a press release. "The stress can have physical effects on our bodies and our hearts, as evidenced by the increasing diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy we are experiencing."