Broken Heart Syndrome

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - A relationship gone bad or the loss of a loved one can cause more than heartache, it can actually be the precursor to a very serious medical condition.

This time of year, love is on the minds of many - but pain could be in the hearts of those who have lost a loved one.  At CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital, cardiologist King White, M.D. never knows what his next case might be.

While the majority of his heart attack patients are there with the same root cause - blocked arteries, he also treats patients whose heart attacks are a result of severe grief, emotions or stress.  "It's an unusual heart attack where a patient doesn't have build-up in their coronary arteries," says Dr. White.

It's called "broken heart syndrome" because of its link to the health implications of severe grief.  Dr. White says, "It can occur after severe emotional upset - things like loss of a loved one, natural disasters - just something that's really emotionally upsetting to them."

This stress causes the body to release certain hormones, which basically stun the heart.  "When a person's under a great deal of emotional stress, the body releases adrenaline," says Dr. White, "this adrenaline can actually be toxic to the heart and can cause a heart attack."

The hallmark feature of the syndrome is the cone-like shape of the left ventricle of the heart because of overwhelmed heart muscle.

Dr. White says broken heart syndrome, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo, accounts for about five percent of heart attacks and the symptoms are identical to traditional heart attacks.  "A person can get chest pain, chest pressure, shortness of breath and the feeling of weakness," he says.

The good news for this type of heart attack is that recovery is fast.  "75 percent of patients recover fully and go on to lead a normal life without ever having any symptoms that they've ever had a heart attack," says Dr. White.

In a study at Johns Hopkins, researchers found that in five years of following patients, none have experienced broken heart syndrome a second time.

*If you are a lady...listen up! Nine out of ten broken heart syndromes belong to us - not because of emotions, but because of the harsher effect of these hormones on the heart.

**Treatment for broken heart syndrome does not involve stents or angioplasty since there's no blockage.  Instead, there are medications given to strengthen the heart's muscle.

(Copyright 2010 KPLC-TV. All rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)