Stress can lead to ‘broken heart syndrome’

During stressful and traumatic times, it can sometimes feel as if blood isn’t flowing.

Turns out that’s a real response, according to cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Chris Magovern.

Called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, it’s known as “broken heart syndrome.”

What can happen, he explained, is the muscular portion of the heart gets weakened by emotional stress.

“It probably has something to do with an adrenaline surge that you get when you’re frightened or emotional or stressed out,” said Magovern, who works at New Jersey’s Morristown Medical Center.

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The symptoms are similar to a heart attack — chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, a sense of weakness.

Older women might be more at risk for broken heart syndrome, he said, because of reduced levels of estrogen after menopause.

Although there is no known way to prevent this, he said awareness is key.

He suggests trying to reduce exposure to stressful events, which of course isn’t always possible.

“You can’t really do that,” he said. “Everyone is going to get in an emotional situation.”

So if you are having these symptoms, visit your doctor.

Patients who experienced this included a woman who walked in and found her brother-in-law dead; another lost a son fighting in Iraq.

Other triggers might be losing money gambling or getting a bad medical diagnosis.

“It can be anything,” Magovern said. “It’s usually a seminal event.”

When it’s happening, the heart, which squeezes blood to the rest of the body, stalls.

“It can be very dangerous,” he said. “It’s something that you need to recognize as it’s happening. The most important thing you need to do is make sure it’s not a heart attack.”

A heart attack is much more common, he noted, and treatment is very different.

Treatment for a heart attack might include surgery to open an artery, whereas broken heart syndrome can be treated by supporting the heart with medication or equipment.

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