Is it possible to die from a broken heart?

The short answer is 'yes'.

Some of you reading this may be familiar, as I myself have been very recently, with experiencing severe pain in the region of the heart when faced with sudden and heartbreaking news. This may be accompanied by shortness of breath, arm pain and sweating. Possibly even panic symptoms. Many who have experienced this may have been concerned that they are having a heart attack.

However, although the symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, this response is called a stress cardiomyopathy, also known as 'broken heart syndrome'. The syndrome was first discovered in Japan in the 1990's and has been more recently noted in Western Europe and the United States.

What happens is that when emotional trauma is experienced, adrenalin and other chemicals are released by the body in a 'fight or flight' response. This abrupt flow can stun the heart muscle, preventing it from pumping properly. If the heart can't pump blood out strongly enough it can fail, causing possible loss of life.

Although it may feel like a heart attack, it is different and needs to be treated differently. During a heart attack, heart tissue is permanently damaged, creating dead cells, whereas broken heart syndrome weakens the muscles. This is not to say that it is less serious than a heart attack. If you have any form of pain in the heart region, you need to seek treatment. However, those who survive broken heart syndrome can recover completely.

Interestingly it seems that while the majority of heart attack victims are male, 90% of broken heart syndrome victims are females, particularly those who have reached menopause. Apparently oestrogen is a factor in heart protection and menopausal women have less oestrogen in their bodies.

So if you feel your heart has been broken, and you have pains in the chest, get help immediately. It is possible to die from a broken heart.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

'fight or flight' response
As a sufferer of three heart attacks and a fourth one prevented by a stent insertion I relate to the above response. It has been very much a part of my life since early childhood as a result of being raised in a house of perpetual conflict. Moreover, because I felt and was treated as an outsider in the village where I grew up I was the target of bullies as a child and adolescent. This too put me in a ready state of 'fight or flight'. The impact of this childhood experience arguably left its mark in upon my heart that was not manifested until adulthood. My cholesterol levels were fine at the time of each heart attack as well as my pre and post attack blood pressure. I was not overweight, never smoked nor did or do I drink alcohol excessively or remotely so. Thus I am persuaded that although not a broken heart example by any means my case is nonetheless similar in its consequences.