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How a broken heart can lead to the emergency room

There are countless ways to soothe a broken heart, but when overwhelming sadness or stress is too much to take, it may lead to a serious condition for your heart. Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo syndrome, appears to be on the rise among middle-aged and older women, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. This condition is characterized by sudden heart failure.

Dr. Umair Malik
Dr. Umair Malik

Memorial Health System Cardiologist Dr. Umair Malik is board-certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, and interventional cardiology.

Signs and symptoms

He says, “Symptoms of broken heart syndrome could vary, but classically are known to mimic the presentation of a heart attack, commonly presenting with chest pain, and at times with shortness of breath, palpitations, lightheadedness or passing out. Typically, the onset of symptoms is preceded by significant emotional or physical stress.”

Stress releases certain chemicals from the nervous system, and in high quantities, they can have a negative effect on the ability of the heart muscle to contract.

How broken heart syndrome is different from heart attack

“Broken heart syndrome is distinguished from a heart attack by the absence of any blockages in the blood vessels feeding the heart muscle,” shares Dr. Malik. He continues, “Most patients with broken heart syndrome are postmenopausal women.”

Most patients with broken heart syndrome recover, but a substantial proportion could experience complications such as shock, respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation, or even death. Dr. Malik adds, “Overall studies have reported a less than 5 percent rate of death from the condition during hospitalization. In a vast majority of patients, with appropriate treatment, the pumping function of the heart returns to normal within a few weeks.”

Treatment options

Once someone is diagnosed with broken heart syndrome, treatment mainly includes medication. In a small number of patients with complications such as shock or respiratory failure, the use of mechanical support devices may be necessary. It’s also important to manage stress and keep blood pressure and heart rate well-controlled so the heart doesn’t have to work as hard.

If you feel like you may be experiencing heart-related issues, speak to your primary care provider. If your symptoms are more severe, call 911. 

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