Don’t Go Breaking My Heart!

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart!

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who has never been on the receiving end of a breakup, then it’s likely you’ve had a broken heart. There are a lot of us who are all too familiar with the feeling, though. Have you ever had the sense of your heart actually aching due to an emotional experience?

A broken heart is more than a metaphor for romantic heartache. It’s a real health condition, called stress-induced cardiomyopathy leaving site icon 

A broken heart can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack. And it isn’t just about a breakup or loss. The American Heart Association leaving site icon  says the syndrome can be caused by anything that causes a surge of stress hormones. It could even be winning the lottery. Though the symptoms may be like those of a heart attack, results of a “broken heart” are quite different.

  • EKG results don’t look the same as a heart attack.
  • Blood tests don’t show any sign of heart damage.
  • Tests show no signs of artery blockage.
  • Tests show ballooning and unusual movement of the lower left heart chamber.
  • Recovery time may only be days or weeks compared to the longer recovery time of a heart attack.

Women are more likely than men to have sudden chest pain, caused by a surge of stress hormones.

There are a few known risk factors for broken heart syndromesuch as:

  • Age:Most people who have broken heart syndrome are 50 or over.
  • A history of a neurological condition:People who have a history of epilepsy or have had a head injury are at a greater risk.
  • A previous or current mental health problem:If you’ve had anxiety or depression, there is probably a higher risk of broken heart syndrome.
Some Causes

Broken heart syndrome is most often caused by extreme emotional or physical stress, such as:

  • News of the death of a loved one
  • A medical diagnosis
  • Abuse—domestic or other
  • Losing or winning a lot of money
  • Strong arguments
  • Performing in public
  • Job loss
  • Divorce or break up
  • Physical stressors, like an asthma attack or car accident
Signs, Symptoms and Side Effects

Even if you have never had a history of heart problems, you can have chest pain and shortness of breath.

You may also have an irregular heartbeat as well as weakening of the heart. This is dangerous because a suddenly weakened heart cannot pump blood to meet the body’s needs.

Broken heart syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure, according to the American Heart Association.  However, it can be treated. Most people recover within weeks and are at low risk of it happening again.

To learn more about  broken heart syndrome, visit the American Heart Association. leaving site icon  If you fear that you may be affected by the syndrome, talk to your doctor.

Learn More About Heart Health

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Many of these deaths could have been prevented with better lifestyle choices. Learn more about what you can do to lower your risk and keep your heart healthy on our coronary artery disease and hypertension pages.

Sources: “Is Broken Heart Syndrome Real?”, leaving site icon  American Heart Association.

Originally published: February 8, 2017; Revised 2020, 2022