You hear “broken heart,” and what do you think of? Sadness, right? Emotional anguish that’s perhaps intense, but treatable with a bar of chocolate and the passing of time. We think of heartbreak as painful, but brief; a condition from which we are ultimately able to recover. And most of the time, that’s the case. However, research reveals that, sometimes, that emotional pain can literally cause you a broken heart, translating into your physical well-being. Yes, broken heart syndrome is a thing.
What is it?
Also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome strikes after extremely aggravating events, such as the loss of a loved one, and can lead to equally extreme cardiac consequences. The American Heart Association links the syndrome to other serious conditions, such as depression and heart disease. However, despite being associated with depressive tendencies, the association warns that stress-induced cardiomyopathy can occur in anyone, regardless of their mental health history.
Because of similar symptoms, broken heart syndrome is often misdiagnosed as a heart attack. Following a particularly stressful event, such as a betrayal or the death of a family member, individuals with stress-induced cardiomyopathy experience a surge of stress hormones, feeling sudden, intense chest pain. When this happens, an area of the heart temporary enlarges and doesn’t pump blood as efficiently as it should. While test results in individuals with broken heart syndrome exhibit changes in rhythm and blood substances that seem similar to a heart attack, tests for stress-induced cardiomyopathy will show no signs of blocked heart arteries.
What are the symptoms?
Some common symptoms, mimicking a heart attack, include shortness of breath and chest pain. Even if you have no prior history of cardiac issues, you may exhibit these symptoms. You might also experience irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias.
When to get checked?
Although stress-induced cardiomyopathy could lead to severe cardiac complications, including short-term muscle failure, individuals with the condition generally make a full recovery within weeks. However, the American Heart Association suggests that if you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain, you should receive an EKG, or a test that records the heart’s electric activity. The results of this test will distinguish your condition from more serious cardiac conditions. Blood tests may also rule out signs of heart damage or blockage in the arteries.