A medical phenomenon known as broken heart syndrome is on the rise amongst women.
The condition, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, refers to the sudden temporary weakening of the muscular portion of the heart. It usually appears after a patient experiences a significant physical or emotional stressor and can lead to long-term heart injury and impaired function.
Now, U.S. researchers have noticed an increase in cases of broken heart syndrome, with the incidence rising steadily since well before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and middle-aged and older women diagnosed much more frequently.
"Although the global Covid-19 pandemic has posed many challenges and stressors for women, our research suggests the increase in Takotsubo diagnoses was rising well before the public health outbreak," said senior author Dr. Susan Cheng. "This study further validates the vital role the heart-brain connection plays in overall health, especially for women."
Analysing national hospital data collected from more than 135,000 women and men who were diagnosed with Takotsubo syndrome between 2006 and 2017, Dr. Cheng and her team discovered that diagnoses have been increasing at least six to 10 times more rapidly for women ages 50 to 74 than for any other demographic. In addition, they noted that the findings indicate the brain and nervous system respond to different types of stressors as a woman gets older.
"There is likely a tipping point, just beyond midlife, where an excess response to stress can impact the heart," she added. "Women in this situation are especially affected, and the risk seems to be increasing."
Going forward, the researchers want to investigate the longer-term implications of a Takotsubo diagnosis, molecular markers of risk, and the factors that may be contributing to rising case rates.
Full study results have been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.