Broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition that is often brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. The condition can also be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. It may also be called stress cardiomyopathy, takotsubo cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome.
You have heard people talking about having a broken heart. You might wonder if it is an actual thing when people married for a long time die within a few days of each other.
Broken heart syndrome is real. It is triggered by incredibly stressful situations, like the death of someone you love.
People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they're having a heart attack. Broken heart syndrome affects just part of the heart, temporarily disrupting your heart's normal pumping function. The rest of the heart continues to function normally or may even have more forceful contractions.
It is thought that when you have broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart called the left ventricle temporarily weakens and stops pumping well. Experts also believe that your coronary arteries, which feed oxygen to your heart muscle, spasm. This can cause chest pain. The momentary "freezing “or "stunning “of your heart can bring circulation problems.
If broken heart syndrome is not treated, it can be as deadly as a heart attack.
The symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and the condition usually reverses itself in days or weeks.
The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear. It is thought that a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might temporarily damage the hearts of some people. How these hormones might hurt the heart or whether something else is responsible is not completely clear.
Women are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain — the reaction to a surge of stress hormones — that can be caused by an emotionally stressful event. It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal, or romantic rejection. It could even happen after a good shock (like winning the lottery.)
Broken heart syndrome is often preceded by an intense physical or emotional event. Some potential triggers of broken heart syndrome are:
- The death of a loved one
- A frightening medical diagnosis
- Domestic abuse
- Losing — or even winning — a lot of money
- Strong arguments
- A surprise party
- Public speaking
- Job loss or financial difficulty
- Physical stressors, such as an asthma attack, COVID-19 infection, a broken bone or major surgery
There are several known risk factors for broken heart syndrome, including:
- Sex. The condition affects women far more often than men.
- Age. It appears that most people who have broken heart syndrome are older than 50.
- A history of a neurological condition. People who have neurological disorders, such as a head injury or a seizure disorder (epilepsy) have a greater risk of broken heart syndrome.
- A previous or current psychiatric disorder. If you have had disorders, such as anxiety or depression, you probably have a higher risk of broken heart syndrome.
In rare cases, broken heart syndrome is fatal. However, most people who experience broken heart syndrome quickly recover and do not have long-lasting effects.