You may have heard people claim you can die of a broken heart and felt skeptical about it, but broken heart syndrome is actually real. The good news is that it’s rarely fatal and most people fully recover without any long-term complications, so you don’t need to worry about actually dying of a broken heart. With that said, you should always consult a medical professional if you’re experiencing any kind of physical distress. Just because there’s a good survival rate doesn’t mean you should just try to wait it out.
What is broken heart syndrome?
Known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome is a real ailment that predominately affects women. It’s more serious than feeling down after a breakup because it can have some scary physical effects on the body. It’s essentially the weakening of the left ventricle, which is the main chamber of the heart that pumps blood to the aorta. Most of the cases are found in women between the ages of 58 and 75, but it appears to be becoming more common in younger people too. It’s believed to be triggered by physical and emotional stress, so it can be caused by a breakup, receiving bad news, trauma, domestic abuse, and more. Currently, it’s usually treated with blood thinners, beta-blockers, and other medications given to heart attack patients, even if you didn’t have a heart attack. However, there are trials underway to find a more specific treatment.
How broken heart syndrome can affect you
- Symptoms similar to a heart attack According to Harvard Health, up to 5% of women who suspect they’re having a real heart attack are actually experiencing broken heart syndrome. These symptoms may include chest pain, dizziness, and sweating. If you suspect you’re having a heart attack or experiencing broken heart syndrome, seek medical attention immediately. It’s also wise to familiarize yourself with how heart attack symptoms can manifest differently for men and women.
- Chest pain We all know how emotional pain can manifest as physical pain. Have you ever physically felt an ache in your chest if you’ve been dumped or gotten really bad news? This type of chest pain is also a feature of broken heart syndrome.
- Struggling to breathe Have you ever been so upset you can’t even breathe? Shortness of breath often referred to as dyspnea in medical settings, is also a way broken heart syndrome affects you.
- Dizziness Another way broken heart syndrome can affect you is leaving you feeling dizzy. In some instances, people can faint. It can also trigger low blood pressure, so if you’re experiencing dizziness along with nausea, fatigue, and blurred vision, your blood pressure could be dropping.
- Feeling weak Broken heart syndrome can be scary due to the symptoms already mentioned. So, naturally, it’s normal to feel fragile in an emotional sense. It can also leave you feeling physically weak.
- Heart murmurs You probably won’t become aware of a heart murmur until you seek medical attention. Heart murmurs are when the blood flows irregularly through your heart, making your heartbeat sound different. So, this isn’t the same as an irregular heartbeat or heart palpations, which are definitely more noticeable.
- Anxiety Sudden life changes like a big breakup, the death of a loved one, receiving a serious medical diagnosis, or living through a natural disaster can unsurprisingly cause a lot of anxiety. Anxiety can also be a sign of broken heart syndrome.
- Nausea Feeling so upset you can’t even eat is a pretty common sign of heartbreak. Nausea is also yet another way broken heart syndrome can manifest.
- Impacts adrenaline You feel a rush of adrenaline when you’re in stressful situations. According to Professor Sian Harding, this hormone is important for transporting oxygen throughout the body in times of stress, but it can cause damage if you’re experiencing a prolonged adrenaline rush. “In patients with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, adrenaline works in a different way and shuts down the heart instead. This seems to protect the heart from being overstimulated,” the Professor explained.
- ECG changes Another sign of broken heart syndrome is ECG changes. This refers to your heart rhythm and electrical impulses in the heart. Signs of this include the symptoms listed above, like dizziness, heart palpations, or shortness of breath, so you might not discover you’re experiencing this until you seek medical attention.
- Fluid in lungs Although it seems to be pretty rare, some people with broken heart syndrome develop complications such as fluid in the lungs. So again, although most people recover from this syndrome fully with no complications, this is why it’s vital to still seek medical attention.
- Cardiogenic shock Cardiogenic shock is a pretty serious condition; it means the heart is weakened and cannot circulate blood throughout the body properly. Again, this is another fairly rare complication of broken heart syndrome — and can be avoided by seeking medical attention.