Broken Heart Syndrome

“You can die of a broken heart — it’s scientific fact — and my heart has been breaking since that very first day we met. I can feel it now, aching deep behind my rib cage the way it does every time we’re together, beating a desperate rhythm: Love me. Love me. Love me.”
Abby McDonald, Getting Over Garrett Delaney

I recently learned about broken heart syndrome when Dr. Marla Shapiro was talking about it on TV. She mentioned that it was first described in 1990 in Japan as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.  Takotsubo is a Japanese term for an octopus trap because of the ballooning shape of the heart during an attack. What is broken heart syndrome?  It is a temporary heart condition caused by an extremely stressful event.  It is a recently recognized heart problem and it can strike you even if you are healthy.

People with broken heart syndrome think that they are having a heart attack when they have a sudden chest pain.  In broken heart syndrome, there is a temporary disruption of the heart’s normal pumping function while the rest of the heart functions normally or with more forceful contractions.

There may be shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats (Arrhythmias) or cardiogenic shock can occur. Cardiogenic shock occurs when a suddenly weakened heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.  This can be fatal it it is not treated right away.  In fact, Cardiogenic shock is the most common cause of death among people who die from heart attacks.  Any time you experience chest pain, you should call 911 and get emergency medical care.  All chest pain should be checked by a doctor.

Women are more likely than men to have broken heart syndrome.  It can be brought on by the death of a loved one, divorce, a break-up, physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection, a frightening medical diagnosis, domestic abuse, natural disasters, job loss, asthma attack, car accident or major surgery.  It can even occur after a good shock such as winning the lottery.  It is more commonly seen among post-menopausal women. Research is ongoing to find out what causes this disorder and how to diagnose and treat it.

As mentioned before the most common symptoms of broken heart syndrome are chest pain, shortness of breath and very rapid or irregular heartbeat.  WebMD mentions two other symptoms, arm pain and sweating.  It is usually treatable.  Most people who experience it have a full recovery within weeks and and the risk of it happening again is low although in some rare cases it can be fatal.  The only way you can be certain if you have broken heart syndrome is for you to have some tests.  These tests used include the following:

  • Medical history and physical exam
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest x-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Blood tests
  • Coronary angiogram

If you have any questions about Broken Heart syndrome, please visit Seconds Count and download their PDF file.

A broken heart is a real condition.   In 2010 the Wall Street Journal wrote an article of a 63 year old woman named Dorothy Lee who lost her husband on night when they were driving home from a Bible Study group.  He had suffered from a heart attack.  At the hospital after she learned of his death, Dorothy began to experience sudden sharp pains in her chest, felt faint and went unconscious.  An X-ray angiogram revealed that she hadn’t suffered a heart attack.  There was no blood clot and her coronary arteries were completely clear. Dorothy had suffered from broken heart syndrome.  It was triggered by the sudden loss of her husband of 40 years.  She was literally heartbroken.  Thankfully, she was at the hospital when she had her symptoms and she didn’t die although the episode severely weakened her heart.  She required a special balloon pump to support her left ventricle during the first couple of days in the hospital.  Five days later she was discharged.  Despite being cautioned by doctors, she attended her husband’s funeral. She was able work through her grief positively and spiritually.   To date she has had no effects of the heart episode.

It is extremely important that if you or someone else experience any chest pain that you don’t ignore it or feel embarrassed to call for help.  At the first sign of symptoms, get help. This can save your life or someone else’s life and limit the damage to the heart.

A broken heart is not just something out of a romance novel.  It is a reality.

 

 

broken heart syndrome

 

Sources:  American Heart Association; Mayo Clinic; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; Wikipedia; Women Heart; WebMD; Uptodate

Women And Infertility

I was watching General Hospital and one of the characters received the news that she could not have children.  Any child she carried would not be carried to full term.  She would lose the baby.  What heartbreaking news.  It hurts to see women who want to be mothers and who would be great mothers unable to have children while those who are unfit have children.  It doesn’t seem fair.  Lulu, the character wondered why this happened to her since there was no family history of infertility.  Before that she blamed herself for her condition because she had had an abortion when she was a teenager.

I have often wondered why are some women unable to have children or carry them to full term?  There was a time when I was afraid that I would not be able to have children.  In biblical times barren women were looked down upon by other women.  Sarah was despised by her servant Hagar because she was able to conceive while her mistress couldn’t (Genesis 16:4).  Hannah was tormented by Peninnah, her husband’s other wife and rival because the LORD had closed her womb.  She made Hannah’s life a living hell until God blessed Hannah with children.  Rachel rejoiced when she conceived her first child, saying, “God has taken away my reproach” (Genesis 30:23).

In developing countries women face ostracisim and see their infertility as a failing or a curse.  Newsweek ran a story in 2008 about women around the world who are coping with infertility.  One woman was uable to conceive for the first 13 years of her marriage.  She said that people would ask a woman her name—and then, “How many children do you have?” When the woman answered “none”, they don’t know what they can talk to you about.”

It must be so difficult for a woman to be surrounded by family members and friends who have children of their own or to see mothers where ever you go with their children and know that she would never have that experience.  It’s ironic. There are women who can have children but choose not to and there are women who would like to be mothers but are unable to have children.

What causes infertility in women?  Women’s Health Government has a fact sheet which answers these and other questions about infertility.

What is infertility?

Infertility means not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying (or six months if a woman is 35 or older). Women who can get pregnant but are unable to stay pregnant may also be infertile.

Pregnancy is the result of a process that has many steps. To get pregnant:

  • A woman’s body must release an egg from one of her ovaries (ovulation).
  • The egg must go through a fallopian tube toward the uterus (womb).
  • A man’s sperm must join with (fertilize) the egg along the way.
  • The fertilized egg must attach to the inside of the uterus (implantation).

Infertility can happen if there are problems with any of these steps.

Infertility among women is common.  According to  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant.

What causes infertility in women?

Most cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.

Ovulation problems are often caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem which can interfere with normal ovulation. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility. Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of ovulation problems. POI occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. POI is not the same as early menopause.

Less common causes of fertility problems in women include:

What increases a woman’s risk of infertility?

Many things can change a woman’s ability to have a baby. These include:

Check out the Women’s Health Government fact sheet to find out how age can affect a woman’s ability to have a child; how long a woman should try to get pregnant before consulting a doctor; how a doctor determines if a woman and her partner have fertility problems and treatments.  They also offer more information (links) on infertility that may help you or someone you know who may be having difficulty getting pregnant.

Glen Meade Center for Women’s Health outlines the ways in which women can be tested for infertility:

  • Blood tests to check hormone levels, including progesterone and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Checking morning body temperature to determine if ovaries are releasing eggs
  • Hysterosalpingography (a radiologic assessment of the uterus and fallopian tubes)
  • Pelvic ultrasound
  • Laparoscopy (inspection of pelvic region)
  • Luteinizing hormone uterine test (ovulation prediction)
  • Thyroid function tests

There is hope for women experiencing infertility.  Glen Meade offers the following treatment options depending on the cause of the infertility:

  • Education and counseling
  • Fertility treatments, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Medications that treat infections and clotting disorders
  • Medications that help women grow and release eggs from the ovaries

Notes to Women wants to reach out to women facing infertily by encouraging them to read articles from women who are coping with it such as this one.  We hope that the tips for living with infertility will be helpful to you and give you some comfort.

Sources:   http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/infertility.cfmhttp://www.glenmeadehealth.com/ms_infertility.html; http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/09/14/what-it-means-to-be-a-woman.html