By Robert Harizi, MD
Reliant Medical Group Cardiology
Most of us have probably experienced a broken heart at some point in our lives, but can you really die from an emotionally stressful event like losing a loved one? According to cardiologists, the answer is yes. In fact, broken heart syndrome is a recognized medical condition.
Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, can strike those with no previous heart issues. The temporary condition can be caused by any stressful, emotional event such as the loss of a job, a divorce, an explosive argument, or the sudden death of a spouse or other loved one. (Actress Debbie Reynolds was believed to have died from broken heart syndrome after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.) The condition was first identified in Japan where it is known as Takotsubo Syndrome. Fortunately, in most cases broken heart syndrome is not fatal.
Broken heart syndrome symptoms mimic a typical heart attack
Most people who are suffering from broken heart syndrome believe they are having a heart attack. However, it is not caused by blocked arteries like the typical heart attack. Broken heart syndrome is believed to be caused by a surge of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which narrow the arteries and temporarily limit blood flow to the heart. This can cause an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) and sudden death in some cases.
The most common victims of broken heart syndrome are women who are post-menopausal. Although the initial symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath mimic a heart attack, there are ways a doctor will be able to tell the difference between a heart attack and stress-induced cardiomyopathy:
- EKG test results look different than a heart attack
- Blood tests show no sign of heart damage
- There are no signs of blockages in the coronary arteries
- Tests show ballooning and unusual movement in the heart’s left ventricle
- Recovery time is quicker than a heart attack
Since there is no way that we can avoid stressful events like the death of a loved one, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs of broken heart syndrome and act on them quickly. If you have shortness of breath and chest pain, always seek medical attention immediately. (Warning signs of a heart attack can also include jaw pain, arm or back pain, sweating, nausea and an overwhelming sense of fatigue). The good news is that those who survive stress-induced cardiomyopathy usually make a full recovery and do not have a high risk of it happening again.
About Robert Harizi, MD, Chief of Cardiology
During his time as a cardiologist, Dr. Robert Harizi has learned that each patient is truly unique and often needs individualized therapy. “After making a diagnosis, I try to tailor the treatment which has the highest likelihood of success to that person. Before you begin any treatment plan, you have to take into consideration a patient’s lifestyle, what their job is, what their attitudes are – a comprehensive approach. It’s very...View profile View posts by this doctor