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
- Chest x-ray
- 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.
Sources: American Heart Association; Mayo Clinic; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; Wikipedia; Women Heart; WebMD; Uptodate