It’s a recognized medical condition commonly called broken heart syndrome, but officially diagnosed as stress cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Not a heart attack
Someone suffering broken heart syndrome may easily confuse their symptoms with that of a traditional heart attack. The surge of stress hormones from a traumatic event essentially stuns the heart, explains Dr. Mehta.
“Your heart isn’t pumping properly and it feels a lot like you’re having a heart attack. But you’re not,” says Dr. Mehta.
While blood flow to the heart’s arteries may be reduced, the arteries are not actually blocked as is the case during a heart attack.
Good or bad news can trigger it
Doctors aren’t sure what the exact trigger of broken heart syndrome is but it typically happens after a stressful or shocking event. And that event could be something positive, like learning you won the lottery, or negative, like going through a painful divorce.
What are the physical symptoms?
The physical symptoms are similar to a heart attack and include chest pain, difficulty breathing and irregular heartbeat.
Who is at risk?
A recent study showed 80 percent of broken heart syndrome sufferers were women age 50 or older. “We don’t know why there’s a gender difference. There’s a lot about the disease we don’t quite get, yet,” says Dr. Mehta, noting that young women, men and even children have been diagnosed.
Broken Heart Syndrome is rare
Only 1 to 2 percent of heart attack patients have later been diagnosed with broken heart syndrome, according to Dr. Mehta.
Recovery is typically rapid and death rare
This is a temporary heart condition and usually doesn’t have long-term health consequences. Most people recover within a few days or weeks. Death is rare for broken heart syndrome.
How is it diagnosed?
If a patient exhibits heart attack-like symptoms but doesn’t have blocked arteries, doctors will go through the patient’s medical, physical and emotional history. A stressful event in the patient’s life is a big clue that they may be suffering from broken heart syndrome, and doctors will look for a tell-tale abnormal shape of the heart through tests such as a chest X-ray and echocardiogram, a noninvasive procedure that takes pictures of the heart.
How is it treated?
Treatment is similar to those who suffer a heart attack. Broken heart syndrome patients are put on heart medication such as beta blockers, as well as given help with their emotional distress.