Spoiler alert: Yes, you actually can die from a broken heart. Here’s what we (and actual science and medical professionals) mean by that.
Broken Heart Syndrome – yes, it’s a real thing.
Scientifically referred to as ‘Takotsubo cardiomyopathy’, broken heart syndrome is when the heart muscle becomes suddenly stunned or weakened (ie. The heart muscle fails). This typically occurs after a stressful life event and can be characterised by sudden and intense chest pains. These episodes can ultimately lead to “short-term heart muscle failure”, according to the American Heart Association.
So what actually happens to the heart during these episodes?
If you’re a science or medical buff? Welcome home. If you’re not science-y or medical-y at all? We’ll try to keep this part as simple as possible.
Broken heart syndrome episodes occur when the surge of stress hormones (mentioned above) temporarily disrupt pumping in part of the heart. This disruption sends the left ventricle into shock, while the rest of the heart continues to pump (sometimes even harder than before to make up for the lack of action in the left ventricle).
These episodes can often be misdiagnosed as – or confused with – a heart attack, and their readings on an ECG or EKG usually resemble those of a heart attack. Additionally, the patient can often find themselves experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath. So it kinda makes sense as to why it might be confusing to differentiate the two.
What is the key difference between broken heart syndrome and a heart attack?
While the symptoms and characteristics of the two might appear similar on the surface, an angiogram (a type of X-ray photograph that shows which arteries are blocked during a heart attack) is often enough for medical professionals to decipher between the two.
This is because there aren’t usually any blockages or clots when a patient is experiencing broken heart syndrome. Instead, they simply have certain areas of their heart that are ‘stunned’ and not working as they should.
Broken heart syndrome also typically occurs within minutes or hours of a stressful life event.
Can you die from Broken Heart Syndrome?
In short, yes. However, the syndrome isn’t always fatal. Of course, it’s always prudent to seek medical assistance if you or a loved one are experiencing chest pain or anything that might resemble a heart attack.
Call an ambulance on 000.
How long does it take to recover from broken heart syndrome?
If you’re one of the lucky ones, you will recover from broken heart syndrome. In fact, sometimes it only takes a few weeks to feel like you’re back to your regular self again.
However, if you’ve already had a few heart-related run-ins (for example, a history of congestive heart failure, low blood pressure, shock, or heart rhythm abnormalities), it could take a little longer.
It’s definitely important to note, though, that most people who experience broken heart syndrome haven’t actually had any prior heart-related incidents. It can impact anyone, and is most common in postmenopausal women (according to Dr. Harmony Reynolds, director of the Soter Center for Women’s Cardiovascular Research at NYU).
How can I prevent myself from experiencing broken heart syndrome?
Gosh, we wish we had a simple answer for that. Doctors are unfortunately still trying to find ways to prevent and treat it – they sometimes even recommend medications designed to block stress hormones.
Your best bet is to try and do whatever you can to keep your thoughts under control, and your mind relaxed. Try making a list of the things you love doing or find relaxing – yoga, meditation, a long bath, or a walk on the beach are all good examples – and making time to do those things when something sad or stressful occurs.
And if you’re concerned or aren’t feeling like yourself, it’s always important to seek medical help.
For many, getting their affairs in order is a practical task that ultimately leads to less stress and worry. Know that your nearest and dearest will be taken care of by starting your Will today.
Disclaimer: This blog is a guide only, and not intended to replace medical advice. If you or a loved one are experiencing like-symptoms, please contact a health professional or ambulance on 000.