Scientists Explain What Happens To Your Body When You Have a Broken Heart

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If you’ve seen The Wizard Of Oz, you might remember the Tin Man’s tragic parting words to Dorothy: “Now I know I have a heart, ’cause it’s breaking.” Turns out, that’s more than just poetic license. Broken Heart Syndrome is real.

What Is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is the ‘scientific’ name for Broken Heart Syndrome. But it’s also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. It’s not only stress that causes it though–at least, not what we would typically think of when we think of stress. Instead, a variety of emotional situations can cause it. Anything as ‘mild’ as public speaking or a surprise party can trigger it, up to life-changing events, such as severe bad news–like an illness or a death–, being a victim of domestic violence, or separation from ones we love.

How Does It Affect The Heart?

And what exactly is it? The stress from the event “freezes” the left ventricle of the heart, preventing it from pumping blood as effectively. The most common way this manifests is in a “ballooning” of the lower left ventricle. This makes the left side of the heart look like the kind of pot Japanese fishermen trap octopi in. The name of that pot? The tako-tsubo, which is where the more medical name comes from. It can also be referred to as atypical ballooning syndrome. That’s four names for one condition!

Can Anyone Get It?

Turns out, men don’t get their hearts broken–or at least not as often. Women are much more likely to get takotsubo cardiomyopathy than men. Age plays a factor, too, as does race. Asian and white women who are post-menopause are most vulnerable. Women between 58 and 75 make up over 90% of reported cases. But, takotsubo cardiomyopathy may be under-diagnosed. Researchers suspect that around 5% of women diagnosed with a heart attack have actually suffered from a broken heart.

What Does It Feel Like?

It feels just like a heart attack, which is one reason it may be misdiagnosed. You can look forward to chest pain and shortness of breath, as well as the possibility of fainting. You can also develop arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats. Worst-case scenario, you can go into cardiogenic shock, when your heart can’t provide enough blood for the body. This is fatal if not dealt with, so take it seriously!

What’s The Difference Between A Heart Attack And A Broken Heart?

Broken Heart Syndrome is not a permanent disorder. Then again, neither is a heart attack (although any heart problems that cause it may be). But there are a few key differences to look for.

Electrical

The readings on an electrocardiogram (EKG) will look different between those having a heart attack and those with Broken Heart Syndrome.

Damage

A broken heart will most likely not lead to lasting damage–and blood tests will show this.

Blockage

A major cause of heart attacks is blockages in your arteries, which is not a feature of Broken Heart Syndrome.

Recovery Time

Because there is less damage to the heart, healing takes only days or weeks, instead of months.

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