What is a broken heart?
When most think of a broken heart, a relationship breakup or a big loss comes to mind – not a medical condition. Cardiologist Ryan Wilson, MD, explained more about broken heart syndrome and what to do if you think you are experiencing a broken heart, medically.
What is broken heart syndrome?
Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, is a temporary heart condition that presents itself exactly like a heart attack. However, instead of having a blockage of the heart arteries as seen with a heart attack, there is no blockage. The condition is believed to be caused by a surge in adrenaline and often occurs after an emotionally or physically traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, a breakup or a medical diagnosis. “The medical condition can also occur after a positive event that would cause that same rush of adrenaline,” said Dr. Wilson.
What are the symptoms?
It is known to feel exactly like a heart attack with the following symptoms:
- Sudden onset of chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating with activity
“It is important for you to seek emergency medical care if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. You will need to be evaluated and treated,” said Dr. Wilson.
How is it diagnosed?
Your medical team will evaluate you much like they would if you were having a heart attack. “In most causes this evaluation will involve a physical exam, blood work and an electrocardiogram (EKG),” said Dr. Wilson.
Who is likely to suffer from broken heart syndrome?
While it can be seen in men and younger women, the majority of individuals with broken heart syndrome are post-menopausal women. “About 1–2% of the individuals who come in with heart attack symptoms are diagnosed with broken heart syndrome,” said Dr. Wilson.
How can you prevent it?
Dr. Wilson said there is no way to prevent broken heart syndrome from occurring, given it occurs after you experience a traumatic event.
How is it treated?
Once you come in showing the symptoms and have been evaluated, you will be started on medications to help get your heart back to normal. With this condition there is an abnormality of how the heart squeezes during the event and medication will help to get your heart back to normal. “Generally, 3–6 months later the heart will return to normal,” said Dr. Wilson. “Once it returns to normal, we will continue to periodically monitor the patient to make sure the heart stays normal.”
He said it’s always important to seek care.
“Anytime you are experiencing any symptoms of heart disease – chest pain, arm pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, heart racing, excessive sweating with activity – you need to seek care immediately. It is important to be evaluated at the hospital if you have any of these concerning symptoms, even during a pandemic,” said Dr. Wilson.
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