Having gone through a heartbreak or two, I can tell you that it feels like your heart is giving out. Although it may seem melodramatic, circumstances of extreme emotional distress can manifest physically by making alterations to the heart. This phenomenon is called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, also known as Broken Heart Syndrome.
As defined by St. Vincent’s Hospital, broken heart syndrome is “a temporary heart condition that develops in response to an intense emotional or physical experience.” The main pumping chamber changes its shape, which results in the heart losing its ability to circulate blood effectively.
Because they are so similar, the symptoms of broken heart syndrome can sometimes be confused with those of a heart attack. An individual can suffer from shortness of breath and chest pain. The main difference between the two is that there are no blocked arteries or permanent damages associated with Broken Heart Syndrome. Additionally, Broken Heart Syndrome usually has a quick and full recovery as opposed to the months of rehabilitation that come with a heart attack.
What causes Broken Heart Syndrome?
Although the name “Broken Heart Syndrome” may give the impression that it can only occur when there is emotional trauma, it can also occur after undergoing extreme physical stress. The Cleveland Clinic was able to put together a list of both emotional and physical stressors that have the potential to cause the condition:
Sudden Emotional Stressors
- Large or meaningful loss (death, divorce, job, home, money, pet)
- Shocking news (both good and bad)
- Extreme fear (public speaking, robbery, car accident)
- Intense anger
Sudden Physical Stressors
- Severe pain
- A physically demanding activity
- Various health issues (asthma attack, difficulty breathing, seizure, stroke, low blood sugar, surgery, etc.)
Since there is no standard cure for Broken Heart Syndrome, a patient’s symptoms are monitored in the hospital until physicians can be sure it is not a heart attack. Once diagnosed, medication is prescribed. The Mayo Clinic shares that an individual will be prescribed medications such as “angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, beta-blockers or diuretics,” all with the goal of lessening the workload on the heart. Usually, the medications can be stopped within three months. Because there are no blocked arteries, surgery is not required.
So, to answer the question, there is a very slim chance that heartbreak can lead to death. Despite the cliche, it is a serious condition that should be discussed with a trusted physician.
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