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Issue 205: Broken Heart Syndrome

Broken Heart Syndrome

Since February is Heart Health month, here are some heart-focused topics you may be interested in, such as broken heart syndrome, how your healthy habits are stronger than your genes for a healthy heart, and how positive emotions boost blood vessel performance. 

Perhaps you’ve never heard of “broken heart syndrome” before, but women are seven to nine times more likely to suffer from this condition, according to a newer study. In fact, this heart syndrome is three times more common in women over 55 than in younger women, while women younger than 55 are 9.5 times more likely to experience it than men of that age.

It occurs when sudden or even prolonged stress such as a death or an emotional breakup triggers heart failure or heart attack-like symptoms. In fact, even good events such as a surprise party can trigger it, since it happens when a big shock causes an adrenaline—and other stress hormones—rush which, in turn, makes the heart’s main pumping chamber suddenly enlarge and not function properly. Interestingly, at the same time, the rest of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions.

Dr. Abhiram Prasad, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who presented research on this syndrome, says, “It’s the only cardiac condition where there’s such a female preponderance.” Why women? One explanation lies in the role of hormones. Another is that men have more adrenaline receptors on cells in their hearts than women do, which may make them better equipped to handle stress and the chemical surge it releases.

Broken heart syndrome was called takotsubo cardiomyopathy in the past, but it’s now referred to as stress cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome. Tests indicate dramatic changes in heart rhythm and in blood substances usually found in a heart attack, but no artery blockages, which are typically found in a heart attack. People generally recover with no lasting damage; however, it can be fatal in about 1 percent of its victims.

Likewise, approximately 10 percent of those who’ve had broken heart syndrome will have a second episode in their lifetimes. Interestingly, broken heart syndrome occurs more often in the summer, but heart attacks happen more in winter.

Moving right along . . .  it’s also important to note that your genetics aren’t the final say in your heart health. Proper diet and lifestyle habits are even more powerful than your genes! There are many studies to back this up, but one recent example in this is that a chromosome typically associated with cardiovascular disease is positively modified by a prudent diet high in raw veggies and fruits.

Additionally, you’ll have to chuckle at this next heart health fact:  positive emotions such as laughter can have extremely beneficial effects on your vascular (blood vessel) function. Whereas mental stress can cause blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow, laughter can relax the blood vessels, according to University of Maryland researchers. In fact, there was a 30 to 50 percent difference in blood vessel diameter between the laughter and the mental stress phases. The scientists concluded that laughter consistently benefited the participants in ways similar to how aerobic exercise would.

Now you know even more about your heart and its health, so beware of broken heart syndrome, eat wisely, and laugh more.

Have a happy Heart Health month!


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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