Should Your Broken Heart Be Treated Medically?

Chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and generalized weakness are all well known symptoms of a heart attack. However, they may also indicate a condition called Broken Heart Syndrome—officially called takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

While this condition sounds like something straight out of a blues ballad, it is very real. Broken heart syndrome is sudden the weakness of heart muscle following severe stress, which likely causes a surge in adrenaline and other stress hormones that shock the heart. Strong emotional situations, such as the death of a spouse, can trigger this cascade of reactions. It's most common in women over 50. Learning about a frightening medical diagnosis, speaking in public, or a physical incident, such as an asthma attack, car accident, or major surgery may cause such a high level of stress it induces Broken Heart Syndrome.

When you experience Broken Heart Syndrome, part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn't pump blood as well as it should. However, the rest of your heart continues to function normally, or in Broken Heart Syndrome may even contract more forcefully. Physicians suspect the large or small arteries may also temporarily constrict; however, an intense physical or emotional event usually precipitates Broken Heart Syndrome.

According to a study published in the journal Circulation, emotional triggers may be associated with an abrupt increase in immediate risk of a cardiovascular event for individuals already at high risk for heart disease. In fact, in at-risk individuals, there are 20 to 33 percent more heart-related deaths during spousal bereavement. Those newly widowed are 21 times more likely to suffer an acute myocardial infarction—heart attack—in the 24 hours after learning about the death of their spouse. This rate declines daily but is still elevated for at least a month.

Because the symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome so closely mirror those of a heart attack, you should seek immediate medical care if you experience any of the signs described above. Although severe blockages in the coronary arteries lead to heart attacks, there are no such blockages in Broken Heart Syndrome. However, the only way to rule out a heart attack is to undergo a cardiac catheterization. Broken heart syndrome is rarely fatal, and with proper treatment, you can generally reverse the situation without incurring any long-term damage to the heart. Complications may include a disruption in heart beat or backup of fluid in your lungs.


Loggia, Debra. "Can You Really Die from a Broken Heart?" Keep in Touch. Web. February 2011.

Mayo Clinic. "Broken heart syndrome." Web. 11 February 2011.

Mostofsky, Elizabeth, MPH, ScD, Maclure, Malcolm, ScD, Sherwood, Jane B., RN, Tofler, Geoffrey H., MD, Muller, James E., MD, and Mittleman, Murray A., MD, DrPH. "Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction After the Death of a Significant Person in One's Life."Circulation 125 (2012): 491-496. Web. 9 January 2012.