Broken heart syndrome

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Broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one.

First described in Japan in 1991, Broken Heart Syndrome occurs because emotional trauma floods the body with stress hormones, over-stimulating the nervous system and stunning the heart muscle.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Broken heart syndrome is treatable, and usually requires about a week to recover
  • The unique features of BHS are that it occurs suddenly in otherwise healthy patients (usually women); it immediately follows an episode of severe emotional stress
  • Unlike a heart attack, Broken Heart Syndrome is reversible if diagnosed early. Patients are hospitalized and can recover within days - with no permanent damage to their hearts. Once medical issues are stabilized, seeking a trained mental health specialist will help cure the emotional trauma.

All about broken heart syndrome

Studies have shown that sudden emotional stress can trigger a severe, but reversible heart muscle weakness that mimics a heart attack. This condition known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy is sometimes called The Broken Heart Syndrome. Also called Tako-Tsubo syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, it is a rare disease, which at first used to be confused with the far more common (and dangerous) cardiac infarction or heart attack.

Many have also defined it as the "broken heart disease"— it affects mostly women in post menopause period, when they are no longer protected by the estrogen hormones, and it is associated with strong emotional stress, like a bereavement, in 80 percent of the cases. This is the reason why it is often associated with a broken heart.

Led by Filippo Crea, researchers have now identified the mechanism underlying this peculiar pathology. In 80 percent of the patients, symptoms disappear spontaneously after a couple of weeks, leaving no trace behind, whilst in the other cases the damage persists. The fact is that the damage caused by this syndrome is in the heart but not in the coronaries.


  • The cause of broken heart syndrome is unknown, but most experts blame it on an unusual response to stress hormones (such as adrenaline) after emotional trauma


Reported triggers have included

  • Unexpected news of a death
  • Domestic abuse
  • Armed robbery, and
  • even a surprise party.


The condition manifests with symptoms suggesting an acute heart attack (severe pressure-like chest pain, shortness of breath, and a sense of impending doom)

  • When first evaluated, patients with BHS are initially thought to be having massive heart attacks.
  • Their coronary arteries are found to be normal (whereas in true heart attacks, one of the coronary arteries would have been completely occluded). *Many of these patients are found to have a peculiar type of heart muscle weakness.

How is broken heart syndrome different from a heart attack?

Most heart attacks are caused by a complete blockage of a heart artery due to a blood clot forming at the site of narrowing from fatty buildup (atherosclerosis). In broken heart syndrome, the heart arteries are not blocked, although blood flow in the arteries of the heart may be reduced.

Broken heart a misnomer

  • There is also evidence that broken heart syndrome may be somewhat of a misnomer. In the Johns Hopkins study, only about 40 per cent of patients suffered an emotional loss. Most of the patients with the condition had experienced a physical stress, like a stroke or asthma problems. And for some, the stressful occasion wasn’t a devastating loss but a relatively minor event, like being asked to give a talk in front of co-workers.


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