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Francis Jones suddenly began to feel chest pains. She thought she was having a heart attack.

“I don’t even think I cried through the whole thing. I was in disbelief.” 

Jones has no history of heart issues, but the stress of possibly losing her business and home due to Covid-19 related issues has caused a lot of stress. The cardiologist told her she was having a stress-induced cardiomyopathy known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy – or in laymen’s terms: Broken Heart Syndrome. 

“It blew my mind, because never in all of the years did I expect to get that diagnosis.” 

Doctors say that Broken Heart Syndrome has symptoms that are similar to a heart attack but is brought on by stress and extreme emotions.

Cardiologists at the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital have been keeping an eye on this condition since before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As stress-related issues associated with the pandemic have continued, they’ve seen more cases of Broken Heart Syndrome than ever before. 

Emotionally stressful events can trigger a sudden surge in stress hormones that are felt to stun the heart and prevent it from pumping properly or cause an artery supplying the heart to go into spasm. 

Dr. Gregory Chapman, Cardiologist at UAB Hospital says that the symptoms will present exactly like a heart attack – chest pain and shortness of breath, but the heart valves are undeterred. 

“As opposed to most heart attacks, which in the United States are caused when a plaque or cholesterol buildup or a coronary artery acts up and triggers a blood clot because blood clot stops up the artery, and the heart muscle downstream from that just dies,” said Chapman. “That’s what causes most heart attacks. With the Broken Heart Syndrome, or Takotsubo, most of these patients don’t have any plaque or cholesterol buildup.” 

Chapman says that the condition exists in women more than in any other demographic over the past year. 

“It’s not clearly understood if there is a hormonal relationship because of the different hormones that women have or the different genetics with women having two X chromosomes instead of an X and a Y,” said Chapman.

Chapman says that since the pandemic he has seen five times as many patients with Broken Heart Syndrome. He says there’s no obvious cure but less stressful events and eating healthier can ease the symptoms.