Broken Heart Syndrome: It Is a Real Thing

About 1.2 million Americans will have some type of heart-threatening event during their lifetimes, reports the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Of those millions of U.S. citizens, about one percent, or 12,000 people, will suffer from Broken Heart Syndrome. Broken Heart Syndrome, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is a real thing. Apparently, it is possible to die from a broken heart, especially after the death of a loved one. The condition can also occur when you have experienced a serious surgery, have been under tremendous stress or suffered from a bad illness. Many who suffer from Broken Heart Syndrome think they are having a heart attack, as it includes chest pain. However, Broken Heart Syndrome is different from a heart attack, and while serious is not as life-threatening as a heart attack.

When you suffer from a clinical Broken Heart, your heart’s pumping function in one part of the heart is disrupted. This forces the other part of the heart to try and compensate. Luckily the symptoms are treatable and if caught early enough can be reversed within a short period of time. Learn more about Broken Heart Syndrome, its causes, how it is diagnosed, prevented, and complications that can arise from the condition.

What is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Medical researchers state women are more likely than men to suffer from Broken Heart Syndrome, experiencing the intense chest pain that comes on without warning. This is caused by a quick surge of stress hormones. These hormones can be triggered by any type of life event such as a divorce, death or even a pleasant shock like learning you are going to be a grandparent for the first time.

Related Article: Understanding Preventive Health Care

Broken Heart Syndrome is diagnosed as a heart attack initially because the symptoms are so closely related. However, once the diagnostic tests are run and the heart does not show evidence of blocked arteries, physicians make the diagnosis for Broken Heart Syndrome. Similar to a heart attack there are differences in blood substances and its rhythm. This is because the heart temporarily experiences swelling in one area. However, because of this if not treated it can lead to a real heart attack.

Causes of Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken Heart Syndrome is a relatively new condition and experts are still struggling to understand what causes a person’s heart to derail so spectacularly. Early findings suggest that adrenaline in excessive amounts, which are released when a person suffers a bad upset or shock, can stun the heart trigging changes in its structure.

Older individuals are more susceptible to this condition, especially post-menopausal women because of the reduced estrogen levels. Certain triggers are known to contribute to Broken Heart Syndrome and include some of the following:

  • Domestic violence
  • Surgery or medical procedures
  • Asthma attacks
  • Blood pressure drop
  • Receiving bad news
  • A traumatic accident
  • Unexpected death of a loved one
  • Financial loss
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Intense fear
  • A sudden surprise

Heart Attacks Vs. Broken Heart Syndrome

While Broken Heart Syndrome can feel like a heart attack, they are quite different. In Broken Heart Syndrome, the EKG does not look the same as for someone who is having a heart attack. Blood tests revealing a heart attack do not register for someone who is experiencing Broken Heart Syndrome.

Often with Broken Heart Syndrome, there is a swelling in the left chamber of the heart, called the left ventricle. This does not happen in a heart attack. A Broken Heart Syndrome diagnosis includes some of the following:

  • Blood tests for certain enzymes
  • Imaging, including Cardiac MRI and X-rays
  • Coronary angiogram (a dye test)
  • General physical exam
  • Family history and background

There is no long-term heart damage and there are no blocked arteries in the heart. Those who have an attack of Broken Heart Syndrome will recover more quickly as compared to someone who suffers a heart attack.

Medications, usually prescribed short-term, include ACE inhibitors, diuretics and beta blockers. All of these help your heart to stop working so hard and allow it time to repair itself. Most who suffer a bout of Broken Heart Syndrome make a recovery within a month, but the medications are generally continued up to six months. There is no surgery indicated for Broken Heart Syndrome and over time the swelling in the chamber of the heart goes down.

Once diagnosed with Broken Heart Syndrome patients generally stay in the hospital for at least 48 hours and receive treatment, which includes medications that help the heart to heal. Medical researchers believe Broken Heart Syndrome may explain the mysterious and unexpected deaths of otherwise healthy people after traumatic events such as natural disasters, death of a loved one or violent personal attack.

Complications From Broken Heart Syndrome

While a majority of the time Broken Heart Syndrome does not lead to any further complications, under certain conditions it can. This is especially true if the Broken Heart Syndrome is misdiagnosed or the patient does not go for help when experiencing the signs of Broken Heart Syndrome. Serious complications that can arise can include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart valve damage
  • Underperforming heart
  • Gathering of fluid into the lungs
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Low blood pressure

Prevention for Broken Heart Syndrome

The good news about Broken Heart Syndrome is that seldom does anyone repeat the experience. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well as seeking help for emotionally upsetting or stressful events is key. Relaxation therapy, meditation or yoga as a way to relieve stress is also a suggested way to prevent Broken Heart Syndrome.

Getting regular checkups with your doctor leads to the prevention of a wide range of medical issues and often problems are spotted before they have a chance to do any real damage. The power of a good social support network cannot be undervalued when it comes to a person’s health. This and many other factors determine your body’s ability to cope with stress. The body’s reaction to stress and stress-related illnesses is a very diverse field and Broken Heart Syndrome promises to be one of the more popular subjects.

Related Article: Mental Health Counseling

It might also interest you: