Broken heart syndrome – myth or real?
The recent death of Debbie Reynolds on the heels of her daughter Carrie Fisher’s death has raised the question: is broken heart syndrome real? And if so, is it always fatal?
Broken heart syndrome is a real condition. But it is rare for it to be fatal. In fact, it’s a very treatable condition that most people recover from in a few weeks with little risk of it happening again. And, most patients recover without permanent heart damage.
However, there is no question that the condition can cause severe, short-term heart muscle failure. Doctors call it stress-induced cardiomyopathy. A temporary condition resulting from a temporary enlargement of the heart, it’s most often brought on by an increase in stress hormones. The surge of stress hormones, caused by either intense happiness or sadness, creates a fight or flight response that results in symptoms mimicking a heart attack: muscles tighten, blood flow increases, and heart rate speeds up.
Most patients do not have a history of heart disease and it can affect perfectly healthy people. Symptoms occur suddenly after an extreme emotional or physical event and is often misdiagnosed as a heart attack. But unlike a heart attack, it does not, fortunately, involve blocked arteries and blood tests will show no sign of damage. Also, it typically has a quicker recovery time – days to weeks, while heart attacks are typically a month or more. And again, most recover with no damage to the heart.
While there doesn’t appear to be any therapy to prevent broken heart syndrome, it’s wise to understand the risk that stress can put on the heart and body. Having a supportive network to whom one can turn to when a sudden event such as an unexpected death or personal trauma occurs, is important. Learning healthy ways to deal and cope with stress is also recommended. Practicing stress relieving exercises and activities is as well. Most important, don’t dismiss symptoms; contact your healthcare provider when experiencing them.