Have you ever heard about a bereaved person succumb of a broken heart? Well, this may seem to be a fairy tale, but it is not. In fact, it is known as the “broken heart syndrome”. Broken heart syndrome is a mild heart condition caused by intense stressful circumstances like death of a loved one or a breakup. Technically jargonized as acute stress induced cardiomyopathy, it is condition that leads to symptoms like sudden pain in the chest, shortness of breath, and feeling of a heart attack. In absence of medical attention, this condition can result in prolonged physical illness or could lead to a critical surgery in extreme cases. There are innumerable patients across the world, who suffer from this syndrome, but with growing awareness and timely treatment, things can get back to normalcy.
Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) confirmed that the broken heart syndrome is indeed real, and can be fatal if left untreated. UW cardiologist, Dr. Zachary Goldberger, said, he meets at least one person in a week with this syndrome. He added, “Typically, this condition is common among the sexagenarian women, who have gone through some kind of emotional or physical stress, loss of a loved one, or economic hardship.” Broken heart syndrome exhibits symptoms similar to that of a cardiac arrest. Some complications include heart failure, fluid build-up in the lungs, and irregular heartbeats. Thus, it is difficult to differentiate the condition from a cardiac infarction. It is only after a series of tests and case study, doctors can diagnose the disorder.
Joanie Simpson, a 62-year old woman from Texas, showed symptoms of this syndrome after the death of her 9-year-old dog. On undergoing a battery of tests, she was diagnosed with blocked arteries, which was later identified to be takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a variant of the broken heart symptom. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a condition that occurs mostly in postmenopausal women due to a series of emotional and stressful setbacks. Joanie expressed that after losing her daughter, her dog was the only family she had; and its death was too hard to bear. After a year of treatment, Joanie showed signs of complete recovery. Since then, this disorder has received massive attention among hospitals, researchers, and media.
The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is yet to be ascertained, but it is believed to be caused due to the secretion of stress hormones, like adrenaline, that can temporarily impair heart functions. As broken heart syndrome mirrors the symptoms of heart attack, a coronary angiography is used to deduce the exact nature of the health problem. Although there are no standard treatment protocols developed for treatment this syndrome, medical practitioners follow the heart attack treatment regimen. After a successful treatment, a person can have a broken heart syndrome again in case there is a stressful event, but the chances are bleak.
Countless heartbroken women think that chest pain and shortage of breath are “just in their head”. In a move to enlighten the mases, hospitals and non-governmental organizations around the world have come roll out programs to spread awareness about the issue. Aspirus Keweenaw, a U.S.-based non-profit, community-directed healthcare organization, plans to host a women-focused event to provide a platform to talk about this rare cardiac condition. Research shows that middle-aged women are more likely to suffer from broken heart syndrome than men. With such events coming to the fore, misconceptions revolving around the broken heart syndrome seem to be disappearing into thin air indeed!