The symptoms mimic a heart attack, said Dr. James Januzzi, administrator of the American College of Cardiology and cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
But as the tests are done, he said, the real cause becomes clearer.
On the one hand, Januzzi explained, stress cardiomyopathy is different from a heart attack on the electrocardiogram, which measures the electrical activity of the heart. And when doctors do an angiogram to scan the inside of the heart arteries, they won’t find any blockages in a patient with stress cardiomyopathy.
The good news, Januzzi said, is that people with the condition usually recover quickly, without long-term heart damage.
Kass said that, given all the stresses of the pandemic – from fear of the virus to job losses to social isolation – it is not hard to imagine why cardiomyopathy would increase.
But he also warned of the results: since the start of the pandemic, many American hospitals have seen a significant drop in the number of patients suffering from heart attacks – perhaps because people feared going to the emergencies and did not call 911.
And that, said Kass, could be one of the reasons why the percentage of diagnoses of stress cardiomyopathy has increased.
“The denominator has changed,” he said. “So it’s hard to know if this is actually happening.”
Januzzi agreed that this could be a factor.
What’s interesting, he says, is that none of the patients tested positive for COVID-19. Cases of “COVID-associated” stress cardiomyopathy have been reported in infected patients, Januzzi noted, but cases associated with the pandemic itself are said to be new.
And it is “very plausible,” he said, that these stressful times could lead to a real increase in disease.
For the general public, said Januzzi, it is essential to act on the symptoms of chest pain and difficulty in breathing: go to the emergency room and let the doctors diagnose it.
Kalra agreed. He also urged people to do their best to manage stress – exercise regularly, for example, or use meditation to calm the mind.
The results were published online July 9 in JAMA network open.
HealthDay WebMD News
SOURCES: Ankur Kalra, MD, interventional cardiologist, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio; David Kass, MD, professor, cardiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; James Januzzi, MD, administrator, American College of Cardiology, cardiologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, and professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston;JAMA network open, July 9, 2020, online
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