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Heart & Vascular

Broken Heart Syndrome

Breakdown of a Broken Heart - Having a "broken heart" is a metaphor for the intense emotional—and sometimes physical—stress or pain one feels at experiencing great longing, or the loss of a loved one. Typically, emotional pain does not cause physical damage to the heart. However, there are times when emotional pain or a stressful event is so severe it can lead to cardiac consequences, sometimes known as Broken Heart Syndrome.

Broken Heart Syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, can strike even if you are healthy, when extremely stressful events have an impact on your heart. One might experience sudden, intense chest pain —  the reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event, like the death of a love one, a divorce, betrayal or romantic rejection, even a good shock like winning the lottery. The connection to some of these are how it got the name, Broken Heart Syndrome.

According to the American Heart Association, women are more likely than men to experience it, and it may even be misdiagnosed as a heart attack because the symptoms and test results are similar. In fact, tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances that are typical of a heart attack. But unlike a heart attack, there is no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome.

In Broken Heart Syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and does not pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. Researchers are just starting to learn the causes, and how to diagnose and treat it.

The bad news: Broken Heart Syndrome can lead to short-term heart muscle failure, sometimes severe.
The good news: Broken Heart Syndrome is usually treatable. Most people who experience it make a full recovery within weeks, and they are at low risk for it happening again (although in very rare cases in can be fatal).

What To Look For: Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome are angina (chest pain) and shortness of breath. You can experience these things even if you have no history of heart disease.

Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) or cardiogenic shock also may occur with Broken Heart Syndrome. Cardiogenic shock is a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, and it can be fatal if it is not treated right away. (When people die from heart attacks, cardiogenic shock is the most common cause of death.)

Heart attack and broken heart syndrome: What’s the difference?
Some signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome differ from those of heart attack. In broken heart syndrome, symptoms occur suddenly after extreme emotional or physical stress. Here are some other differences:

  • EKG (a test that records the heart’s electric activity) results do not look the same as the EKG results for a person having a heart attack.
  • Blood tests show no signs of heart damage.
  • Tests show no signs of blockages in the coronary arteries.
  • Tests show ballooning and unusual movement of the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle).
  • Recovery time is quick, usually within days or weeks (compared with the recovery time of a month or more for a heart attack).

Not to worry, especially on Valentine's Day, Broken Heart Syndrome is not that common, and for most, even after a break-up or even a stressful event, your physiological heart is probably just fine, and after a few pints of ice cream, you will feel better and go on to love again! 

Whatever the situation is, if you are experiencing heart pain, call 911 and get medical attention. Keep your heart healthy by eating well, exercise and visit a cardiac specialist to find out how you can prevent heart disease and maintain a healthy and active life.

Kettering Health Medical Group Heart & Vascular’s award winning team of board-certified cardiac specialists have expertise in all aspects of cardiovascular care.

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