Broken Heart Syndrome: Meaning & Explanation
What Is Broken Heart Syndrome? A heart that is literally broken… it is possible. When we talk about heartbreak, we often speak of a proverbial broken heart, but did you know that you can actually suffer from broken heart syndrome in a stressful event? Broken heart syndrome is a disease of the heart that is very similar in symptoms to a heart attack. Read along…
What Is Broken Heart Syndrome?
Broken heart syndrome is an acute heart disease that usually recovers well. This syndrome was first investigated by Japanese doctors in the 1990s. They called this phenomenon Tako-Tsubo cardiomyopathy.
It is a disease that arises spontaneously with a very strong emotion. This can be a shock reaction or a reaction to excessive grief, but it can also be based on positive emotions such as the euphoria that one feels at a victory.
The heart muscle is temporarily severely weakened in broken heart syndrome, so that it cannot function properly.
Broken heart syndrome: the symptoms
The symptoms of broken heart syndrome are often confused with those of a heart attack. About 5% of people admitted to hospital for suspected heart attack actually suffer from broken heart syndrome.
The symptoms of this syndrome include chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations. In contrast to a myocardial infarction, the heart muscle is not permanently damaged and healing is possible in the short term.
What happens in broken heart syndrome?
Little research has been done on the mechanism behind broken heart syndrome. It is assumed that a large amount of stress hormone is released in the blood as a result of high emotions.
These stress hormones can directly affect the heart muscle causing it to stiffen. Because the heart continues to pump, but the flexibility of the ventricle is disturbed, the heart bulges.
It is possible that broken heart syndrome only occurs in people who are extra sensitive to stress hormones or suffer from some other physical or psychological disorder.
What Causes Broken Heart Syndrome?
Broken heart syndrome is caused by an event that causes emotions to run high. Examples of such a situation are an unexpected death in the family, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, a natural disaster or a happy event such as a victory.
In addition, broken heart syndrome can also be caused by a physical event such as a brain haemorrhage or an epileptic seizure. Finally, broken heart syndrome can also develop as a result of certain medications or drugs.
It is striking that the symptoms occur directly as a result of the emotional event, the physical event or the drug intake.
Who Gets Broken Heart Syndrome?
In practice, most people who suffer from broken heart syndrome have been found to be women. One in ten women who visit a hospital because of symptoms suggestive of a heart attack eventually turn out to have broken heart syndrome.
Women who have passed menopause, in particular, seem to have a higher risk of broken heart syndrome. Women may become more sensitive to the stress hormone at a later age due to a drop in the hormone estrogen.
Another explanation may lie in the physical development of the heart in men. It could be that a man’s heart is better prepared for an increased supply of the stress hormone so that this does not lead to broken heart syndrome.
How is the diagnosis made?
Various examinations are carried out in the hospital to rule out the possibility of a heart attack. A heart trace and a blood test are performed as standard to visualize the activity of the heart.
An X-ray, an ultrasound, a coronary angiogram and an MRI scan can also be part of the examination. Images will quickly show that the heart is distended in the typical way known in broken heart syndrome.
In case of a heart attack, narrowing should be visible in the coronary arteries. This is not the case with broken heart syndrome.
Can you die from broken heart syndrome?
Unlike a heart attack, broken heart syndrome does not have permanent consequences for the heart in most cases. Patients almost always recover within a few days.
Moreover, the chance of a recurrence of the complaints is small, while a heart attack can always follow more heart attacks. However, broken heart syndrome can be dangerous because of complications. About one in five patients will have:
- Cardiogenic shock due to low blood pressure
- Fluid in the lungs
- Blood clots
- Cardiac arrhythmias
Since the complications of the broken heart syndrome can lead to life-threatening situations, the patient is kept under hospital supervision for the first few days.
As a result of broken heart syndrome, patients may be more likely to have a brain haemorrhage or stroke. The risk of dying as a result of broken heart syndrome is estimated by the specialists at 1%.
What is the treatment for broken heart syndrome like?
The treatment of broken heart syndrome consists of administering drugs to restore normal function of the heart muscle, such as ACE inhibitors and beta blockers.
In addition, anticoagulants are usually prescribed to prevent blood clots from forming. If complications arise, they must also be treated with medication. Recovery from broken heart syndrome usually takes only a few days.
Life after broken heart syndrome
For most people, the mental consequences of broken heart syndrome will outweigh the physical consequences. The heart usually makes a full recovery.
The most important thing is to avoid stressful situations after broken heart syndrome. In addition, it may be necessary to keep taking beta-blockers if the heart function does not want to fully recover. It is possible to participate in a rehabilitation program for cardiac patients to improve cardiac function under supervision.