EducationTruth Behind the Broken Heart Syndrome or the Stress Cardiomyopathy

Truth Behind the Broken Heart Syndrome or the Stress Cardiomyopathy

“You can die of a broken heart-it is a scientific fact -and my heart has been broken since the very first day we met- I can feel it now aching, deep behind my rib cage. Abby McDonald, getting over Garret Delaney

In 2009, Lisa Wausaukee came up to the ER with a severe excruciating chest pain that started since the previous night. It was first misinterpreted as a heart attack, but after running a few tests it was diagnosed as stress cardiomyopathy. Lisa’s son died out of a drug overdose the previous night which tends to be the main cause.

When we say broken heart, what comes to our mind is the phrase used by lovesick teens and romantic poems or the phrase used for break ups and we often picture it as a cartoon shattered heart. But little do we realize there is actually a literal meaning of broken hearts, our heart really gets broken out of grief and can lead to serious cardiac consequences. In 1999 in Japan a scientist named Sato discovered this disease when a few women died of physical stress, it was named then Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (takotsubo octopus trapper similar to that of stricken heart) it was rare and unknown to the west then, but now it is a well known acute heart failure also known to us as a broken heart syndrome.

Breakdown of a broken heart:

Women are likely to be more of broken heart victims compared to that of men. A broken heart is associated with intense chest pain due to the release of several stress hormones after an emotionally stressful event. Comprising, death of a beloved one, divorce, breakups, accident, betrayal or physical separation and physical stresses like that of Asthma, frightening medical diagnosis, losing money, domestic abuse, strong arguments etc.

It is weird that sometimes it can occur out of good shocking news such as winning of a lottery as well. Broken heart syndrome can be similar to that of heart attack, because the symptoms and test results are similar. In fact, test shows dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances like that of the heart attack. But unlike heart attack there is no blockage of arteries.

Broken heart syndrome, a part of the heart enlarges and fails to pump the blood however the rest of the path functions normal. The mechanism goes like this when sudden news is struck like a death for example the person falls into severe depression and stress that increases the level of stress hormones and adrenaline leading to increased calcium, as a result the blood reaches the heartless leading to temporary damage of the heart musclege of the heart muscle.

The bad news is that it leads to severe, short term heart muscle failure. Good news is that it is treatable, most victims experience a full recovery within weeks and they are at low risk for it to happen again (although in rare cases it can be fatal)

Signs and symptoms:

  1. Angina: intense chest pain radiating to the left arm
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Irregular hear beats
  4. Nausea
  5. Dizziness
  6. Heart finds it unable to pump the blood to meet body’s requirements that is cardiogenic shock the ultimate reason for the death.

When to consult the doctor?

If having any chest pain, a very rapid and irregular heartbeat/shortness of breath after a stressful event. Get to the emergency hotline and to a doctor as soon as possible. The family has to be aware of these symptoms or signs in the victim and be ready to take necessary actions.

Risk factors:

  1. Women compared to men
  2. Age above 50 are more prone
  3. Neurological disorders such as seizures or head injury
  4. A previous or current psychiatric injury- depression/ anxiety


In rare cases the broken heart syndrome can be fatal, but most who suffers from broken heart syndrome fully recovers soon or later. The other complications include

  • Backup of fluid into your lungs (pulmonary edema)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Disruptions in your heart beat
  • Heart failure

It s possible to have broken heart syndrome when another stressful event occurs ,however the odds of this happening are low.

Taking care of yourself after an episode:

The first days and weeks after coming out of a cardiac rehab can be frightening and confusing. There can be certain goals kept in mind

  •  Know your treatment plan that has been planned in the cardiac rehab to reduce the risk factors
  • Risk factors include smoking , good way quit smoking
  • Blood pressure should be constantly checked the high BP makes the heart works harder. Keep in mind the normal BP is 120/80mmHg
  • Blood cholesterol – get it frequently checked and take necessary actions to keep it balanced which inckudes healthy diet and physical activity as the doctor prescribes.

Beyond this how can you relieve the stress:

Our heart is a very delicate and soft organ, we need not suffer it from unwanted stress. There are some little ways that can get us out of stress so that we don’t risk the heart again.

  1. Positive self talk: all of us talks to ourselves. Sometimes negative talks like “i am worthless” sometimes positive talks “i can do this”. Make it a routine for the positive thoughts to occur as negativities can increase the stress even more risking the disease again.
  2. Count from 1 to 10 before you speak or react
  3. Take a  few slow and deep breaths until you feel your body unclench a beat.
  4. Go for a walk, even if it is to the restroom and back.
  5. Take quick meditations especially early morning meditations
  6. Sleep well
  7. Listen to music
  8. Work out , take a break or read.

There is a small chance of this occurring again, and there is no proven additional therapies for this to not occur at all, however, there are some lengthy treatment, but the key step being annihilated the stress completely out of the victim’s life. Recognizing and managing stress can be a key step, though there is no accurate evidence for this.

After all who would take care of ourselves better than us. So cherish your life and let your heart live a healthy life.

Fasna Nasir
Fasna Nasir
Fasna Nasir is from the state of the Kerala, currently pursuing her career in medicine. She is a passionate writer with deep love for books and reading, often spends her time writing poetry, prose, articles

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