Cardiovascular Disease

A Broken Heart Coming Apart

Picture taken from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703615904575053443911673752Was your loved one acting dramatic on Valentine’s Day? Were you questioning  the importance of the holiday? After all…you can’t die from a broken heart, can you? As my colleague Amanda Zaleski likes to remind me, you can in fact suffer from this physiological ailment. So in  honor of cupid and all his shots to the heart, I invited her to pen this guest post on broken hearts coming apart.

There is no doubt that losing a loved one (literally or figuratively) is extremely painful, but are there any documented cases of anybody actually dying from this? As it turns out, yes. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a relatively newly appreciated syndrome in the medical community, but has long been recognized by poets and teenagers for centuries simply as a “broken heart.” Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or “broken-heart syndrome” was first described in Japan in 1990 and in the United States in 1998, with 90% of cases being reported in postmenopausal women. Broken-heart syndrome occurs when emotional stress of any kind evokes increases hormone levels such as adrenaline, which in turn weaken the muscle of the heart, causing the left ventricle to balloon out. The resultant distinctive shape of the heart resembles the Japanese takotsubo (a ceramic pot used to trap octopus)- hence the name! Broken-heart syndrome mimics the symptoms of a heart attack (i.e., heaviness in chest, shortness of breath, abnormal EKG), but the tell-tale sign is always the presence of the takotsubo pot upon x-ray. Seventy percent of the documented cases thus far have been correlated with negative emotional stressors (i.e., bereavement, anger, loss of job). However, a new report published this month highlights a case of a woman presenting with broken-heart syndrome after becoming too happy in response to receiving a prestigious teaching award, suggesting that any emotional event can trigger this condition. The good news is that with proper recognition and management, nearly all patients survive an acute episode. So, for those of you who are recently heart-broken this Valentine’s Day or perhaps in contention for Teacher of the Year…let your heart beat on, but with caution.

Post written by Amanda Zaleski, M.S., Research Associate at Hartford Hospital and Graduate Student in Kinesiology, University of Connecticut

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