“Sharp are the arrows of a broken heart.” – Cassandra Clare, City of Heavenly Fire
The concept of ‘dying from a broken heart’ is a tale that is often shared in our favorite movies and fairy-tales, painting a picture of a love that was so perfect that once just can’t imagine living without their partner. A romantic notion indeed, but experts are speaking up and revealing that ‘Broken heart syndrome’ isn’t reserved for works of fiction! In fact, people are suffering from the condition right here in America today!
Also known as ‘stress-induced cardiomyopathy,’ this is a condition that is caused when someone is under sudden extreme stress, like that caused by the loss of a loved one. Dr. Matthew Lorber, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York explains, “Broken heart syndrome – which is, in fact, a real thing – is when someone finds out some shocking news, typically terrible news, and there’s a massive release of these stress hormones that are released into the bloodstream, and the heart is then bombarded with these stress hormones. This could be the news, certainly, of a loved one dying, which is where the ‘broken heart syndrome’ name comes from. This could be the news of getting a divorce. This could be a boss coming in and telling you you’re fired – anything that can cause intense stress”
Lorber also warns that this shocking or stressful news doesn’t have to be negative in nature. For example, a father being told for the first time that he is about to have a baby can trigger a similar bodily reaction. When the stress hormones reach the heart, they cause a temporary weakening of the left ventricle, limiting its ability to adequately function. As a result, the heart momentarily ‘freezes,’ causing circulation problems.
While there are some risk factors that will increase your chances, anyone can experience broken heart syndrome regardless of how healthy you may be. That being said, 90% of cases are in women, specifically those with a history of mental health problems, or those who have a history of neurologic problems such as seizures. Those who are over the age of 50 are also at a higher risk. Surprisingly, a history of heart disease does not impact your risk of broken heart syndrome.
The condition is treatable in most cases; however, it is important that all Americans educate ourselves on the signs and symptoms so as to seek medical assistance at the first sign. Often mimicking a heart attack, stress-induced cardiomyopathy often presents with chest pain, shortness of breath, low blood pressure, nausea, dizziness, fainting or an irregular heartbeat.