Is broken heart syndrome real?

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.

“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 Advocate Health Care.

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 Advocate Health Care.

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 experience symptoms of a heart attack, it’s important to seek medical help immediately.

Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more. 

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  1. I absolutely have a broken heart. Would love some help

  2. Hi Arlyn. I’m sorry about what you are going through. I have some emotional upheaval in my life and decided to get some counseling through Aurora’s Employee Assistance Program. It’s free. I would recommend calling them for help: 1-800-236-3231. At least you would have someone to talk to and gain some tools to help you through your situation.

  3. Hello Arlyn, As I read the article I vividly remember having symptoms of heaviness and sadness during a rocky time as my marriage of 33 years was ending. My blood pressure sky-rocketed and I found myself needing a Stress test after the imaging appeared to show a heart problem that led to a cardiac catherization. Thankfully, my coronaries were clean but it was all related to the stress I was enduring on a daily basis. I agree with Emily in that I called the Aurora Employee Assistance Program and worked with a Counselor and Physician who helped me to work through my problems with much prayer as well. I can honestly say, I’m better and thankful for everyone who helped me as I healed from a broken heart.

  4. Hello Janet…….OMG, I am also going through a separation/divorce after 33 years. I also have a clean cardio, but my head right now is jumbled, especially since she was just hospitalized, and the diagnosis from what I read is 2-7 years max. Need to make sure I keep an even closer eye on my heart.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.