Broken Hearts Can Be Mended

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/7/2010 2:56 PM   :  102 comments   :  16,987 Views

How many of you have watched a movie or TV show where one of the characters, who has experienced a stressful situation in her life, suffers from what appears to be a classic heart attack but isn't? While this may sound a little farfetched, doctors are beginning to recognize a condition that mimics a heart attack, but after further testing there is little or no sign of cardiovascular disease. Doctors refer to this condition as stress cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome. In all my years in nursing and reading up on health matters I have never heard of this syndrome before, until I came across an article in the Spring 2010 issue of Better Homes and Gardens Heart-Healthy Living Magazine.

After doing my own research, I discovered that broken heart syndrome can mimic a true heart attack but does not cause death or irreversible damage to the heart like a classic heart attack can. However, the two conditions can be difficult to differentiate when a patient presents to the emergency room with chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea and in some cases even heart stoppage.

In a February 2005 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine released the findings regarding the signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome and how it varies from the common heart attack. Unlike the classic heart attack which occurs when the arteries of the heart become blocked, researchers believe broken heart syndrome occurs after the heart has been exposed to large amounts of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine, over a period of time that actually "stun" the heart. This usually occurs after the patient has been under an undo amount of stress, but not always.

Although broken heart syndrome is rare, when it does hit, it tends to strike older women who are quite healthy otherwise, but who have undergone a period of stress in their lives. They often arrive to the emergency room with classic heart attack symptoms, however after further testing, there appears to be no cardiac disease found. The positive side to this is there is no long term, irreversible damage to the heart itself and recurrence is rare.

So what should one do?

As always, if you experience any chest pain, shortness of breath, anxiousness, etc, call 911. Remember heart disease is the number one killer of women and ignoring symptoms can be the difference between death and recovery.

Have you ever heard of broken heart syndrome? Have you ever suffered from it yourself?


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Comments

  • 102
    It is very possible that I went through this two years ago in June. I had chest pain, my heart was racing, had trouble breathing, was sweaty and nauseous. I was directed to the the emergency room. As soon as the nurse administered nitro things got better. After a stress test and ultrasound my results were unconclusive. Nothing like that has happened since. This is interesting. - 8/3/2012   6:35:34 AM
  • JULIEJAZ
    101
    Three years ago, my husband of 20 years left me and our kids. It was the most painful thing I've ever gone through. For the first 6 months I had panic attacks every night (that left my heart racing and sometimes feeling like it would stop beating for a second or two), anxiety filled my days as I tried to push through it all and take care of my kids who were suffering too. - 1/12/2012   1:02:28 PM
  • 100
    I had heart attack symptoms within a month after my first husband died. I was 45 though, not post-menopausal. I went to the ER for chest pains, and they checked everything out: I spent a night in the hospital. At least now I know what the chest pains feel like, so I won't dismiss them. Thanks for the great article, and for all who have shared their experiences. - 2/12/2011   9:02:54 AM
  • JCOLUMBINE
    99
    I know what it is like to physically feel the pain of a broken heart. I knew what it was, though. As a counselor, I have seen many clients have panic attacks that their loved ones believed were heart attacks. It is not uncommon for someone going through grieving to have decreased health. - 5/23/2010   5:37:58 PM
  • 98
    While I've totally been in the broken heart situation and I'm sure most of us have been, I think it's about time for to stop calling every negative life issue a disorder, disease, or syndrome. Take menopause for example. From what I understand it isn't a bag of chips. However, women have gone through it since the beginning of humanity. It isn't new and isn't a disease. However, health professionals have been treating it like it's one.

    I think that's what's going on with this broken heart issue. It's totally normal to feel that way when you've experienced heartbreak. Why make it a bigger deal than it is? Next, they'll have medication for it (if they don't already). I can see counseling, but it is possible to completely go too far with something that is a totally normal life event. Not everything is a disease. - 5/1/2010   1:07:42 PM
  • 97
    I never had heart problems until my 29 year old son was killed in a freak accident 3 years ago. Last year the cardiologist told me I had an enlarged heart and heart disease, said I needed a stent. I told him my heart is broken and can't be fixed. I had the stent put in, but my heart still aches daily. - 4/14/2010   4:08:46 AM
  • NEED_TO_TRY
    96
    Interesting. Someone I know went into hospital last week thought she was having a heart attack, although they could not find anything, they held her overnight. She has been stressed and worried about her husband lately, he is going thru bad time. - 4/12/2010   9:06:41 PM
  • K_RENEE
    95
    Well this is very very interesting. I've never heard of this before, but I am glad I learned about it. - 4/12/2010   6:14:26 PM
  • BCHERRY36344
    94
    I have never had a problem with this but my mother in-law did the night my father in-law died. Thankfully we were already at the er. It makes since why they would call it the broken heart syndrome. - 4/12/2010   11:24:00 AM
  • ANDREALEE10
    93
    Very interesting- and prolonged release of /exposure to stress hormones can do many things- this makes sense. Thanks for the informative article! - 4/11/2010   8:15:02 AM
  • 92
    I worked for Zoll Cardiac Solutions, which developed and manufactuers the only wearable cardioverter defibrillator (The Lifevest), which monitors and will protect from Sudden Cardiac Death. I have read many reports which Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or Broken Heart Syndrome is the reason for nonischemic cardiomyopathy (meaning it is reversable). As stated in the article, many patients are female, who experience a traumatic loss. Sad, but at least it is treatable - 4/10/2010   9:35:25 AM
  • 91
    Wow, truly amazing. - 4/9/2010   3:22:57 PM
  • 90
    To call this *real* PHYSICAL cardiomyopathy "broken heart syndrome" as if it's a psychological or social problem really trivializes it and burns my chaps!

    I was hospitalized with this last September. Very minor chest discomfort, perfect EKG with no changes when compared to one I had a few years ago during an annual physical. I didn't even get admitted to the ER yet when I felt fine again, but my husband insisted I stay and get checked out. Lab work showed a very slight elevation in one cardiac marker (troponin) so I was rushed into the cardiac cath lab, where the doctor found my bulging and trapped left ventricle and made the diagnosis of Takotsubo Syndrome, the REAL name of what the writer is calling "broken heart" syndrome.

    Yes, it can be caused by sudden and severe stress, a great shock to the system both physically and emotionally, and yes, it usually reverses itself within a few weeks with proper treatment, such as medication to strengthen the heart muscle and a few months of cardiac rehab therapy. A low sat diet is also recommended.

    It was discovered and named in Japan, given the name "takotsubo", which means "octopus trap," because of the way the muscles surrounding the left ventricle of the heart spasm and trap the area, preventing the heart from pumping correctly. There's a great web site that explains it all in laymen's terms:
    http://www.takotsubo.com
    Most people who get this are post-menopausal females, those of us in the "sandwich generation" who are caring for not just our children but our parents and elderly relatives, too In my case, it's an adult son who graduated college with a Master's in engineering 2 years ago who still can't find a job in *any* field, even retail working a register, and a 91 year old aunt with mid-stage Alzheimer's disease who was about to be transferred from a rehab facility after a fall to assisted living but the nurses started telling her she could go home any time she wanted, that she didn't have to go to the other facility. The woman couldn't remember where she lived or what year it was but darn it, she knew she wanted to go home and live alone again. We had already started to empty out her house so we could sell it to pay for assisted living!! We now had 24 hours to get her out of there and she insisted on going home. A week later I wound up in the ER with chest pains.

    It's been 6 months, and the stress has increased instead f decreased. I'm still working out the hr a day the cardiac rehab nurses said I must do, still taking the heart pill the cardiologist wants me to take, even though my primary care doc says I no longer need it. And w\although the literature - and the cardiologist - say the syndrome did reverse itself within a month, I now have to claim myself a cardiac patient whenever I get treatment for anything else, including at the dentist. Takotsubo syndrome is going to continue to be a part of my life, even though it's gone now. - 4/9/2010   1:23:47 PM
  • 89
    4 years ago @ 3 a.m. I was woken up by a racing heart and massive chest pain. With a family history of early heart disease, I was put through a battery of tests. I was told that I have no blockages but was told I had a stress related heart attack. There was no damage to the heart or arteries so I am wondering if I had a heart attack or if it was this. I am not on heart medication, only valium to keep me emotionally in check so I don't spaz everytime I get stressed. I have a doctors appointment on the 15th and I am going to ask him about this. - 4/9/2010   1:18:08 PM
  • 88
    My father-in-law in his late 40s suffered from this. He ended up with a disability and left his job as an IRS agent (talk about a stressful, thankless job). This was before I met him. But the docs couldn't find anything "physically" wrong with his heart. Since then he has had other medical problems, but stress is not something to be blown off as being all in your head---it is very real and can be disabling. - 4/9/2010   12:45:03 PM
  • _SPARK526
    87
    I was actually diagnosed with this about twelve years ago. I was traveling in Ireland and ended up in the Accident & Emergency department because of what appeared to be a heart attack. The doctors concluded that I had Broken Heart, which made so much sense as it was the first anniversary of my son's death. Incidentally, Blue Cross refused to pay for the visit...no such diagnosis, they said. - 4/9/2010   5:34:52 AM
  • 86
    Never heard of this, but I just MIGHT have experienced it. After going through a divorce after 30 years of marriage, 4 months after having moved from IL to TX, all alone, with no friends, I wound up calling 911, because I THOUGHT I was having a heart attack. Was kept almost 24 hours, it was determined it was 'anxiety' & told if I experience it again, just take an Aleve & I'd be fine. - 4/8/2010   10:57:22 PM
  • 85
    I have never heard of this but certainly understand how it could happen. I have had a tremendous amount of stress since the first of the year and I felt likel it was affecting my health. I have seen my doctor and am on the road to feeling better. Lift on life's terms sometimes is not good for us. Thanks for a great post.
    - 4/8/2010   8:42:48 PM
  • 84
    Oh I am suffering from this right now. I didn't know it had a name either. I am newly divorced and it is very painful. And yes, I have had what I considered anxiety attacks, and it did feel like a heart attack. But, I got up, got on my treadmill and calmed down. I have found holding my little Poodle helps too. And thankfull, I belong to a wonderful online organization like Spark People and have made many friends here too!

    Mary - 4/8/2010   8:41:22 PM
  • KRMAIER
    83
    Absolutely, I have felt this way. One relationship I believe it took 5 years with pain but not realizing that it was over him. Finally got over him and it. Thankful for the experience, though. - 4/8/2010   8:17:13 PM
  • 82
    I guess that would explain what happened to my DF. She lost her DH to cancer. They were married for 35 years. I can't imagine losing someone so close! - 4/8/2010   7:44:08 PM
  • 81
    No, i have not heard of it and i don't suffer from it at all. - 4/8/2010   5:58:46 PM
  • LOOZINITNOW
    80
    This happened to me a year ago this month. I was dismissed from the ER with indigestion and then ran through an angiogram that showed absolutely nothing but clear arteries. The case was never solved. I believe it is now! Thank you! - 4/8/2010   5:33:05 PM
  • 79
    I had a simular experience 20 yrs ago. It was due to a change in my medication. years later it was diagnosed as anxiety attack.
    Both times my ex was having an affair. I did not realize the affair was happening until months later. I guess my body knew what my mind was denying. - 4/8/2010   5:31:53 PM
  • H844394
    78
    I had these same symptoms twice 3 months apart to the day. My husband had an affair 2 1/2 years ago with the wife of his co-worker and so called friend. It devastated me after 8 years of marriage. The second time it happened I was at work and I went to the doctor on the orders of my co-workers. The doctor diagnosed it as a panic attack. I had never had a panic attack before so I figured after all of the stress I had been through he was probably right. My doctor said that sometimes it is a delayed reaction to a stressful event. Luckily I have not had one since. - 4/8/2010   3:20:57 PM
  • 77
    Yes this has happened to me twice and it was scary! I have a stressful job at times and sometimes am very hard on myself about things which can very often be beyond my control. I've checked myself into the doctor's office and er once and I wasn't haven't a heart attack but thought that I was. Thanks for a great blog.
    - 4/8/2010   3:20:37 PM
  • 76
    This sounds like an Anxiety attack or a Panic attack to me. My brother first had one thirty years ago and swore he was having a heart attack when he went to the ER. Didn't show any signs of heart disease, and was diagnosed with Panic Disorder. To this day he says if he does have a Heart Attack it won't be a surprise after what he already went through. He's continued to take anxiety medicine since. - 4/8/2010   2:12:23 PM
  • 75
    I just spent 4 hours in our local ER with these exact symptoms. This is the second time it has been this intense and both times with stress. All tests revealed "normal" everything. Doc said "likely" muscular or skeletal, but nothing for sure. This article makes COMPLETE sense to me. Thank you. - 4/8/2010   1:17:59 PM
  • 74
    Good information. I don't recall experiencing this nor have I previously heard of it. - 4/8/2010   1:08:42 PM
  • 73
    I have been in a very mentally abusive relationship and this man did VERY horrible things to me and I told him a couple times my heart was literally in pain and it was. Maybe it was this. - 4/8/2010   12:48:11 PM
  • 72
    This gets me to think...I am under stress side hurts to the point; I hold my breath, unable to move...I thought it was anexity attack...very interesting.
    Thanx. - 4/8/2010   12:47:59 PM
  • 71
    I had a broken heart syndrome when my oldest DD passed away. The dr. was listening to my heart and I told him my heart was broken and he told me that it does beat differently at times like this. So this is no surprise to me. - 4/8/2010   12:34:23 PM
  • 70
    thanks for the info! very interesting! - 4/8/2010   12:19:46 PM
  • 69
    Forgot to mention one thing--in stress cardiomyopathy, EKGs DO show a heart attack. It's just that the damage is different. I'm not trying to make light of panic attacks, but it's NOT the same thing. - 4/8/2010   12:19:18 PM
  • 68
    The answer to both questions is no. I do know emotions can be a powerful thing and when they aren't examined closely at times they can play havoc on the body, so this isn't all that surprising to me. - 4/8/2010   12:18:51 PM
  • 67
    I have never heard of this before-thanks for sharing. I do, however, suffer chronic anxiety and have had the above symptoms when I have escalated into a panic attack. It does feel the same, and never should be discounted. Perhaps the time has come for healthcare professionals to take the effects of acute stress more seriously. - 4/8/2010   12:12:32 PM
  • SARAGWYNE
    66
    This happened to me last year after my father died unexpectedly and my mother became seriously ill for about 6 months. All tests, fortunately, showed a healthy heart but my symptoms at that time felt very real and frightening. - 4/8/2010   12:07:01 PM
  • 65
    Wow - very interesting! - 4/8/2010   11:47:02 AM
  • BERTHAR
    64
    Panic, anxiety, emotions all of these are part of stress and shouldn"t be taking light of at anytime. Persons with any of these feeling should consult a doctor while undergoing these feeling. - 4/8/2010   11:14:00 AM
  • PRESHA911
    63
    I have heard of broken heart syndrome before, but it sounds to me like a panic attack brought on my environmental stressors. - 4/8/2010   10:58:22 AM
  • 62
    This has happened to me about 10 years ago and again about 6 months ago. Has all the work up both time and they found nothing wrong. The heart specialist want to watch me carefully though. I go back for another check up next month. - 4/8/2010   10:35:29 AM
  • 61
    Broken hearts are very real. In my 72 years I have seen far too many people have real strokes or heart attacks that need continues medical treatment or cause death. It seems particualrily common when one loses a spouse of many years. My Dad was one of them. So it is not surprising to find out many people can also suffer from 'Broken Heart Syndrome. - 4/8/2010   10:10:31 AM
  • VRACHAL
    60
    Never new it was called that, but yes, have been there and had a similar experence. Now I know what it was. - 4/8/2010   10:05:05 AM
  • 59
    Yes, this happened to me. It was diagnosed by a doctor, and it isn't the benign "go home and get some rest" condition that this blog implies. My heart stopped three times, I was in the hospital more than a week, I went into 3rd degree heartblock and had to have a pacemaker implanted, and I do have permanent damage--I'm pacemaker dependent. (To be fair, I also have a heart condition called LQTS, which complicated my case.) If treated promptly, deaths are very rare, as is _permanent_ damage, but there is temporary damage to the heart and it does need to be treated just like a classic heart attack. I think most of the commenters are confusing stress cardiomyopathy and panic attacks, frankly. It's why I don't care for the term "broken heart syndrome". Here's a link to John Hopkins' FAQs about the condition. As you can see, Nancy got a few things wrong.--beginning with whether stress cardiomyopathy can be life threatening.
    http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/asc/
    faqs.html
    - 4/8/2010   10:02:59 AM
  • KBCBRETIRE
    58
    When I am under continuing stress (during my hubby's cancer surgery) I sometimes experience this. Tight chest, shortness of breath - not pleasant! - 4/8/2010   10:02:43 AM
  • 57
    yes, have suffered from severe chest pains due to "broken heart"....
    it is real, and very painful physically, but also the emotion of it can be suffocating to the point of exhaustion and colapse. A person needs a strong support team in such times. Praise God I have had that. - 4/8/2010   10:00:20 AM
  • 56
    When I read on your friend feed you were blogging about this, I cheated and researched it myself. It is quiate a fascinating topic and now that I am getting older, I wanted a heads up since chances are I will be expeciencing traumatic life experiences. THANK YOU! - 4/8/2010   9:59:39 AM
  • 55
    I've certainly had stress, and we've "ruled out" cardiac disease for now despite two recent ER visits, but it's beginning to look as if it might have been my GERD acting up, and the hope is that I may not need testing for an ulcer with my GERD meds doubled.

    Let's not forget GERD while we're talking about heart and stress. On the other hand, thanks for the info about this syndrome. Far too little is known about heart disease in women, and one of the reasons we don't know what symptoms are truly indictative in women is that most of the research has been done on men with the assumption being that the results will be the same.

    Thanks for the new info! - 4/8/2010   9:58:15 AM
  • 54
    I've never heard of this syndrome before. It's fascinating how many different diseases have resulted because of our modern lives. Who'd have thought that stress could have such an impact ?

    My doctor says my heart is extremely healthy and bonus points, there is no heart disease in my family. So, I'm not too worried. but I do try to take care of myself cuz you never know.
    - 4/8/2010   9:33:41 AM
  • 53
    I think my grandma must have this condition. She goes into the hospital quite often with all the signs of a heart attack but it's usually not. It's different from a panic attack or anxiety attack. - 4/8/2010   9:00:57 AM

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