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Can a broken heart actually send you to the ER?

Posted Feb 20 2012 10:05pm

It’s the month of love and the heart (The American Heart Association), but I’m not referring to a sick heart rather than a hurt/shocked heart, which can trigger the same symptoms as a sick heart.

Broken Heart Syndrome (BHS) is a condition that closely mimics a heart attack. Patients usually arrive to the hospital ER with chest pain and shortness of breath.

Sarah A. Samaan, MD, FACC, cardiologist and author of the book Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: A cardiologist’s seven-point plan for preventing and reversing heart disease, explains that the electrocardiogram (EKG) will show a pattern that looks exactly like a heart attack. Blood testing will show the typical elevation in heart enzymes and an echocardiogram (ultrasound) of the heart will show a weakened heart muscle with abnormal motion, all this suggesting a heart attack. However, when taking a look at the heart arteries, we usually find them to be essentially normal, with no blockages, clots, or significant cholesterol buildup.

Adrenaline rush

This syndrome was first described by Japanese researches in the early 1990s and was named Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. James L. Marcum, M.D. and author of The Ultimate Prescription,  elaborates that “tako-tsubo is a trap to catch an octopus. The condition was named this because the trap has a narrow neck and a wide base. This is what the heart looks like when this condition strikes.”

Still experts are debating on the causes of this syndrome, however any event from a sudden breakup, a tough argument to a bad news about loved ones and family, can trigger the symptoms.

“No one is yet certain about what exactly causes the condition, but it seems to be due to a sudden, massive release of stress hormones like adrenaline, often caused by severe emotional stress or pain. However, some people who suffer from the Broken Heart Syndrome cannot identify any major stress,” adds Samaan.

But what experts do know is that women unfortunately are perceived as the weaker gender when BHS hits in. Marcum says “women are much more likely to have this condition, more than 7.5 times more likely. No one knows why for sure. It has been speculated hormonal differences as well as a different number of stress receptors in women. I think women might be more receptive because of differences in the microvasculature, the small blood vessels of the heart.”

On this regard, Samman points out that previous studies show that the majority of women with BHS were premenopausal, and not on estrogen therapy. Therefore, a lack of this hormone may make older women more prone to suffer from this syndrome.

Daily work

Women can be more vulnerable to suffer from this condition, however how you face life circumstances in every way matters. Samaan says that type D personalities seem to be at higher risk. “These are people that tend to keep their emotions bottled up. They also tend to have a negative outlook on life, always expecting the worst.”

While there’s no way to prevent this from happening, Marcum advises that a person who tries to lower stress of all types will lower the risk. From eating healthy, exercising, having adequate rest, adequate hydration to maintaining a normal body weight all are factors that play a role to tolerate better stress and sudden situations in life.

The good news, with the proper attention, “most of the time people make a full recovery with no long-term disability,” says Samaan.

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