Originally known as “takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” broken heart syndrome is relatively common. People with this syndrome often see their doctor for chest pains, thinking they are having a heart attack. The chest pains, however, are not caused by clogged arteries; they are the result of severe emotional stress.
“Patients come in with symptoms similar to a heart attack, but they don’t have the typical blocked arteries,” says Dr. Joseph Poole, a cardiologist with Piedmont Heart of Athens, although the heart has ballooned out. It’s mostly seen in women age 60 and older, who have experienced some sort of stressful event, regardless of whether it’s emotional or physical.
“There is a lot of debate about what actually causes this syndrome,” Dr. Poole said. “Most people believe it is a ‘stunning’ of the heart from too much adrenaline.” Most people make a full recovery in a matter of weeks, although in rare cases, it can be fatal, according to the American Heart Association.
Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness and an irregular heartbeat.
Potential triggers can include abuse, death of a loved one, an upsetting medical diagnosis, financial difficulty, even a surprise party, public speaking, a car accident, major surgery or an asthma attack.