Broken Heart Syndrome

It is sometimes difficult to imagine that we can go through our lifetimes without experiencing the pain of a broken heart. Perhaps it is a part of living our lives and forming relationships with others. Being that Valentine’s Day is upon us, patients often ask whether it is possible for someone to die from a broken heart. Unfortunately, the answer can be yes. Even in the medical world, there is a syndrome that is called the “broken heart syndrome” or “stress cardiomyopathy”. This is when the heart suffers a sudden or abrupt heart failure that comes from, believe it or not, an emotional trauma.

Let’s be clear here. Broken Heart Syndrome is not just an anxiety attack. The heart is actually in serious distress.

This condition is rare but can occur:

1) After a breakup from a relationship

2) Death of a loved one

3) Frightening medical diagnosis

4) Domestic abuse

5) Car accident

6) Speaking engagement

7) Bankruptcy

8) Any intense physical or emotional stressor

9) Low blood sugars

10) Dehydration

11) Changes in temperatures


It can also occur from good stressors such as:

1)  A surprise birthday party

2)  Winning the lottery

3)  Job promotion

4)  Engagement/Wedding

While the symptoms for Broken Heart Syndrome are similar to those of a person having a heart attack, they are quite different. Only 1-2% of people who are diagnosed with a heart attack are actually suffering from Broken Heart Syndrome.

So what is the difference?

A heart attack is when the heart muscle blood supply is cut off by plaque or a blood clot and/or spasm that can destroy the heart muscle, causing it to die, which impairs the heart muscle’s ability to pump that in turn causes irreversible damage permanently.

Broken Heart Syndrome comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. The cause and mechanism is unknown, but it is thought that there is a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenalin, that impairs the heart muscle from pumping effectively by ballooning out the lower portion of the heart (ventricles) as a result of muscle weakness. The damage is reversible and most people have a full recovery within a few weeks. However, on rare occasions, it can be fatal or may temporarily damage the heart.

Middle-aged postmenopausal women are mostly affected; however, it can affect men. Chronic stress and depression also heighten the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other risk factors for Broken Heart Syndrome include:

1) No previous history of heart disease

2) Primarily middle-aged to elderly women, but it can occur in younger women and men

3) Personal and family medical history such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and hypertension

4) Major stressors


People who experience Broken Heart Syndrome may experience:

1) Congestive heart failure

2) Heart attack

3) Stroke

4) Seizure

5) Shortness of Breath

6) Bleeding

7) Chest pain

8) Rapid or irregular heartbeats

9) Low blood pressure

10) Shock

11) Any recent trauma to your chest that causes chest pain such as a motor vehicle accident or being punched in the chest


It is important if you or someone you know begins to experience any of these symptoms and does not get better, you do not ignore them. Go immediately to the Emergency Room or contact your or their doctor, for you or that individual may be experiencing a real heart attack.

The question is always asked: can Broken Heart Syndrome reoccur? Yes, though it rarely does; but if it does, it can be fatal.

The person experiencing Broken Heart Syndrome looks like he or she is in distress, and he or she will get the same cardiac work up as a person having a heart attack.

The diagnostic tests that may be performed include:

1) Cardiac cauterization – which will show no plaque or blood clot.

2) The Echocardiogram – which is an ultrasound of the heart and will show a sick heart, meaning that the top of the heart will look great but the middle to the bottom of the heart will show the ballooning or bulging of the ventricles. This can lead to a collection of fluid in the lungs—which leads to congestive heart failure (CHF).

3) The EKG – in which heart tracing can show an irregular heartbeat.

4) The Chest X-ray – which can show an enlarge heart or fluid in the lungs.

The treatment of Broken Heart Disease is the same for heart attacks until a clear diagnosis can be made.

So as you can see, it is imperative that you are aware of this rare syndrome, for it can save your life. It also teaches you that this Broken Heart Syndrome is real and can impact you and your loved one’s life.

This is also a reminder that sudden stressors, good or bad, can affect us at any time. Please take care out there. Be kind to yourself, ask questions and stay informed as to how you can be your own best advocate for your health care.

My thoughts are always with you and for your good health,

Dr. Christina

  • Posted By: DRC Editor
  • Tags: anxiety attack broken heart attack broken heart can kill broken heart syndrome broken heart vs heart attack broken hearts die of a broken heart Dr Christina Charbonneau Dr. Christina heart attack rare condition rare syndrome
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