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 like this?

For all of those who thought that a broken heart was purely a metaphor for romantic heartache, it’s actually not! It’s an actual acute condition and it’s called stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

Sometimes mistaken for a heart attack, the American Heart Association states that this syndrome can be caused by any reason by which there would be a surge of stress hormones. This includes winning the lottery, for example. Though there may be similarities to a heart attack, results of a “broken heart” are quite different.

Broken heart syndrome usually occurs after extreme emotional or physical stress:

  • 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 blockage in the coronary arteries.
  • Tests show ballooning and unusual movement of the lower left heart chamber.
  • Recovery time is usually within days or weeks compared to a longer recovery time when it involves a heart attack.

Women are more likely than men to experience a sudden chest pain, caused by a surge of stress hormones, and related to an emotionally stressful event.

There are a number of known risk factors for broken heart syndrome, such 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 for broken heart syndrome.
  • A previous or current psychiatric disorder: If you’ve had anxiety or depression, there is probably a higher risk of broken heart syndrome.

Some other events that can cause this emotional stress surge are as follows:

  • News of unexpected death of a loved one
  • A medical diagnoses
  • Abuse—domestic or other
  • Losing or winning a lot of money
  • Strong arguments
  • Performing publically
  • Job loss
  • Divorce
  • Physical stressors, like an asthma attack or car accident

Although the research on causes is not as cut and dry as the list above, the main cause is extreme stress inducing events. This condition has been observed in some people, and there is still needed research to understand it better than we do now.

Signs, symptoms and side effects

Even if you have never had a history of heart disease, you can experience the symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath.

Irregular heartbeats may also occur with broken heart syndrome as well as weakening of the heart. This is dangerous because a suddenly weakened heart cannot pump bloody to meet the body’s needs.

Broken heart syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure,” states the American Heart Association website.  However, it “is usually treatable. Most people who experience it make a full recovery within weeks and are at low risk of it happening again.”

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