Updated: Dec 17, 2018
When someone has a broken heart, it is generally regarded in an emotional sense rather than a physical sense. However, a broken heart can lead to real cardiac consequences. It is well-known that there are connections between depression and heart disease. In the throes of a highly stressful event, a person can suffer from broken heart syndrome.
In the medical field, broken heart syndrome is also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. It can cause the person to feel sudden, intense chest pain in reaction to a surge of stress hormones. This reaction could be due to the death of a loved one, divorce, breakup, or betrayal. It can even happen after a good shock, such as winning the lottery. Women tend to be more likely to experience broken heart syndrome than men.
When you experience broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and does not pump well while the rest of your heart functions normally. The most common signs of broken heart syndrome are chest pain and shortness of breath. Irregular heartbeats or cardiogenic shock can occur. Cardiogenic shock is where a suddenly weakened heart is unable to pump enough blood for the body. It can be fatal if not treated right away. Broken heart syndrome can even occur in someone who is healthy with no history of heart disease.
Broken heart syndrome may be misread as a heart attack because of similar symptoms. The test results are also similar to those in a heart attack, such as the dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances. However, unlike a heart attack, there is no evidence of blocked heart arteries or heart damage. The EKG results will be different from a person with broken heart syndrome and a person having a heart attack. Also, the recovery time is usually quicker with broken heart syndrome, within days or weeks, when compared to a heart attack, a month or more. Researchers are still learning why it happens and how to diagnose and treat it.
If your doctor thinks you have broken heart syndrome, you may need coronary angiography, which shows the insides of your coronary arteries. Other diagnostic tests include EKG, blood tests, echocardiography, and cardiac MRI. Your doctor might recommend an echo about a month after you are diagnosed with broken heart syndrome to keep tabs on your health.
While broken heart syndrome can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure, it is usually treatable. In rare cases, broken heart syndrome can be fatal. However, most people who experience broken heart syndrome fully recover within a few weeks. They are also at low risk for it happening again.