COVID-19 Pandemic Linked to Spike in Cases of Broken Heart Syndrome

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The pandemic has impacted our lives in so many ways and it's led to a spike in cases of broken heart syndrome.

It's not what you might think. It's a life-threatening condition brought on by stress. A woman who survived it wants others to learn from her story.

Jessica Love, 35, is the picture of health and works at Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute. Five years ago, she was here as a patient after a cardiac emergency.

"My heart stopped for seven minutes I believe. They did CPR and resuscitated me for about seven minutes," Love said.

Jessica was taken by air ambulance to Saint Luke's and diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy, which is also known as broken heart syndrome. Brought on by stress.

"The adrenaline levels get so high that it basically shocks the heart, and it stops metabolizing fuel so it can't, it can't contract anymore," Dr. James O'Keefe said.

At the time, Love was in school studying to be a nurse practitioner, preparing for her boards, and by her own admission, a perfectionist.

"It was definitely a shock to realize that that stress, and all of those things that I put myself through constantly, did that to my heart and almost basically ended my life," Love said.

The condition has all the symptoms of a heart attack, but there is no blockage. It's that surge of stress hormones.

O'Keefe is seeing a 500-fold increase linked to COVID-19.

"Especially these days when with all the pandemic lockdown and the isolation and the increased fear," O'Keefe said.

Stress cardiomyopathy requires emergency care but is treatable. Love made a full recovery and now understands the importance of managing stress. She runs and does yoga, and she now counsels other heart patients about the mind-body connection.

"It's been a challenge, but it's been an opportunity to share the story and hopefully help other people," Love said.

Experts said 90% of the cases of broken heart syndrome are women. Like Love, many have no underlying risk of heart disease. It's important to understand the role stress can play and learn techniques to manage your stress.

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