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When you think of “a broken heart,” you probably picture someone who is devastated by a great loss. Many people experience heightened feelings of sadness and loss during the holidays. But for some, those heavy emotions can turn into physical symptoms that cause alarm.
Did you know there is a temporary heart condition called broken heart syndrome that can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack? We’re here to explain the causes of broken heart syndrome, the symptoms, who’s most at risk and how it differs from a heart attack so you can be in a better position to protect your heart.
What Causes Broken Heart Syndrome?
Broken heart syndrome is often triggered by stressful situations, extreme emotions, surgery or a serious physical injury. The stress is usually sudden and acute, emotional or physical, and quickly weakens the heart muscle from the overwhelming amount of adrenaline produced in response.
Emotional stressors that can lead to broken heart syndrome are:
Physical stressors include:
- Blood loss
- Difficulty breathing
- High fever
- Low blood sugar
The majority of people who develop this condition experienced a stressful event, but about 30% of patients can’t trace an identifiable trigger when their symptoms began.
Other names for broken heart syndrome are stress cardiomyopathy, takotsubo cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome.
What are the Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome?
Since symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, patients, their family members, paramedics and ER physicians are often misled by broken heart syndrome. It’s important to take the symptoms seriously so you can receive proper treatment and make a full recovery.
The signs of broken heart syndrome are:
- Chest pain
- Racing heart
- Shortness of breath
The symptoms might begin within minutes of the stressful event, or hours later. It’s important to call 911 or get to the ER if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
Who is Most at Risk?
Risk factors for broken heart syndrome include:
- Age: Most people who have broken heart syndrome are older than 50.
- Chronic stress: People in long-term stressful situations may be more at risk for broken heart syndrome.
- Gender: Broken heart syndrome is more common in women than in men.
- Mental health disorder: Those with anxiety or depression may have a higher risk of broken heart syndrome.
How Does Broken Heart Syndrome Differ from a Heart Attack?
Heart attacks are typically caused by a complete or near-complete blockage of a heart artery. In broken heart syndrome, the heart arteries are not blocked. Blood flow in the arteries of the heart may be reduced. While there are rare cases of broken heart syndrome leading to death, most patients recover quickly without long-term complications.
When to See a Doctor
At AdventHealth, we’re all about healing hearts and caring for you in body, mind and spirit. If you experience broken heart syndrome, it’s important to get the right care to prevent future episodes. Many physicians recommend long-term treatment with beta-blockers or similar medications that block the potentially damaging effects of stress hormones on the heart. We’re here to protect your whole health with compassionate care in our state-of-the-art facilities. Learn more about our Heart and Vascular Care Program here.