Stress and heart health are closely connected. Sudden or extreme emotional distress, such as severe sadness, fear, anger, or shock, can bring about irreparable damage to the heart.
One of our patients, an elderly woman, suffered from broken heart syndrome after her husband passed away. She experienced heart failure and was in critical condition. Fortunately, she was immediately given cardiotonic drugs and angiotensin II receptor blockers – lifesaving treatment that reduced the strain on her heart and enabled the heart to pump blood normally again.
Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, may also be triggered by sudden, unexpected bad news, which causes the heart muscle to weaken rapidly. Stress is usually brought on by intense emotions, which may arise as a result of sudden bad news such as the death of a loved one, a serious accident, or calamity; or due to physical factors such as acute illnesses like an asthma attack, major surgery, or a broken bone.
The risk of developing broken heart syndrome is 10 times higher in females. The condition is also more common in elderly individuals, in particular, post-menopausal women. Those suffering from anxiety or depression are also at a higher risk.
The exact cause and development of broken heart syndrome is unclear, but the medical community believes that it is related to a surge of stress hormones. When a person experiences significant stress, the body produces hormones and proteins, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine, which are supposed to help manage the stress, but when produced in excess, can overburden the heart. This then can cause the person to experience heart attack-like symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, perspiration, and dizziness.
Generally, broken heart syndrome is temporary and patients gradually recover after a few weeks or months. However, in severe cases, such as in the event of pulmonary edema, low blood pressure, arrhythmia, or heart failure, the condition may be fatal if left untreated.
To prevent recurrence of broken heart syndrome, patients should learn to manage their emotions and stress by engaging in various stress-relieving activities such as simple aerobic exercises, yoga, and meditation.