Is Broken Heart Syndrome real?
Can your emotions change the way your heart functions?
It certainly seems so. Think about how your “heart hurts” upon learning upsetting news, or if you’ve ever said your “heart feels like it’s broken” after a relationship ended.
While you can interpret these sayings as simply common expressions, research has demonstrated that the sadness and heartache you may experience emotionally actually changes the way your heart functions, if only for a brief time.
“With Broken Heart syndrome, the heart muscle becomes weak and doesn’t pump blood very well. Part of the heart also becomes temporarily enlarged,” says Dr. Marianna Krive, a cardio-oncologist at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning syndrome or stress-induced cardiomyopathy are all names for Broken Heart syndrome, a temporary heart condition in which the heart weakens. It is brought on by an extremely stressful event such as the death of a loved one, divorce, strong arguments, a car accident or domestic abuse.
Those who suffer from Broken Heart syndrome often feel like they’re having a heart attack because the two conditions have the same symptoms, including chest pain, shortness of breath, pain in the left arm, nausea and sweating. It’s most common in women over 50, but men can also experience this condition.
“Most cases are caused by an intense emotional stressor, although sometimes, the stressor can be physical,” says Dr. Bruce Greenspahn, an interventional cardiologist at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Lutheran General.
While the exact cause of Broken Heart syndrome is unknown, researchers think the chemicals released during stressful periods, such as adrenaline, actually weaken the heart muscle and cause individuals to feel like they’re having a heart attack.
Because the symptoms of Broken Heart syndrome are similar to those of a conventional heart attack, Dr. Greenspahn says many come to the emergency room to be evaluated. Once there, it’s common for physicians to order an electrocardiogram. Because the electrocardiogram usually shows changes that suggest a blockage in an artery is taking place, an emergency angiogram is necessary to distinguish between Broken Heart syndrome and the most common type of heart attack, which is caused by a blocked artery.
“In particular, we are worried about a blockage of the artery on the front of the heart, which is the most dangerous kind,” says Dr. Greenspahn.
If the diagnosis is Broken Heart syndrome, patients are treated with medications that help strengthen the heart. In addition, Dr. Krive says exercise is a great antidote to stress, and she suggests individuals develop an exercise routine to help combat the stress they’re under.
“The medical regimen is identical to the drugs used to treat heart failure,” says Dr. Krive. “An ultrasound of the heart is typically repeated within four to six weeks of the initial diagnosis to confirm the recovery of heart function.”
The heart returns to normal within a few days or weeks, and Dr. Greenspahn says the prognosis is good. People almost always recover from Broken Heart syndrome, and it’s unlikely to reoccur.
If you the experience symptoms of a heart attack, it’s important to seek medical help immediately.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.