By Richard Ueberfluss
We’ve all heard about people suffering or even dying from a broken heart, and assumed it was a heart attack. But the American heart Association suggest that broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, can strike even if you’re healthy. (Tako tsubo, by the way, are octopus traps that resemble the pot-like shape of the stricken heart.)
Women over 60 are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain — the reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event. It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. It could even happen after a good shock (like winning the lottery.)
Broken heart syndrome may 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’s no evidence of blocked heart arteries in broken heart syndrome.
In broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t 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 Wall Street Journal recently noted that a new study of 10 women who experienced the broken heart syndrome found that their chest pain was actually caused by a nervous system issue related to stress that kept suffers from being able to calm down.
Now medical experts are suggesting that when people experience chest pain brought about stressful situations these symptoms may subside simply by using relaxation methods such as yoga and meditation.
But it would be a mistake to minimize the danger of broken heart syndrome. The Wall Street Journal notes that “There were 6,230 cases of people in the U.S. hospitalized with broken heart syndrome in 2012. Patients usually heal within days or weeks without residual damage to the heart. But complications can occur as well as fatalities.”
This condition is most often treated with beta blockers that control adrenaline flow that overwhelms the heart, but some medical experts are questioning whether this is the best course of treatment.
In fact, The New England Journal of Medicine cited a study that found that beta blockers “are not effective in preventing tokotsubo cardiomyopathy.” Although there is some feeling that patients with hypertension symptoms may have impacted the study results.
The bottom line is that stress is a contributing factor to the broken heart syndrome. Experts recommend that when stress triggers are reduced, it also reduces the potential for experiencing broken heart syndrome.