Can you die of a broken heart?

January 27, 2015 Providence Health Team

Can you die of a broken heart?Fact or fiction? A tired old man dies weeks after the death of his wife, too lonely and too sad to go on. He lost the will to live and died of a broken heart.

The story may be fiction, but the message is fact: you can die of a broken heart. It’s called Broken Heart Syndrome. And, though it sounds Shakespearean, it’s very real indeed. 

What is Broken Heart Syndrome? 

Broken Heart Syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, is brought on by extreme stress such as a narrowly avoiding an auto accident or the death of a loved one. During this temporary condition, the heart responds to the influx of stress hormones and the lower chamber, or the left ventricle, enlarges. This prevents the heart from pumping efficiently and can cause symptoms similar to a heart attack. 

What are the symptoms? 

The symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome are similar to those of a heart attack, and include chest pain, arm pain, shortness of breath and sweating. An echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of your heart, will show if your heart is enlarged, a common symptom of Broken Heart Syndrome. Blood tests can reveal enzymes that are often present after a heart attack. The difference is that with Broken Heart Syndrome, there is no evidence of blocked arteries that often cause a heart attack. 

Who is at risk? 

Women are much more likely to suffer from Broken Heart Syndrome than men, particularly women who’ve reached menopause. The good news is that unlike with a heart attack, recovery from Broken Heart Syndrome is relatively quick (about a week) and there is usually no lasting damage to the heart muscle. 

Although rare, Broken Heart Syndrome can be fatal. So if you experience any of the symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you suffer from Broken Heart Syndrome once, you’re at a slightly increased risk of having it again. Be sure to schedule follow-up visits with your Providence primary care provider and specialists to keep your heart in tip-top shape.

February is American Heart Month

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