Broken Heart Syndrome - Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy
by Rev. Dr. Karen Turek, D.D.M.S., Ph.D.
I am often asked, as a bereavement counselor, “Has anyone ever died of a broken heart?” Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.” But allow me to elaborate on my answer. Firstly, most all cases of broken heart syndrome are temporary and do not result in a permanent condition or death. The symptoms that are experienced are brought on by acutely stressful situations and extreme emotions such as the loss of a loved one, a serious accident, a sudden illness, a natural disaster or even a positive event like winning a lot of money.
Broken heart syndrome is often referred to as cardiomyopathy, takotsubo cardiomyopathy (Tako tsubo are Japanese octopus traps that resemble the pot-like shape which the stricken heart temporarily takes on) or apical ballooning syndrome. It is believed to be brought about by a sudden rush of surging stress hormones that “stun” the heart. This causes a temporary ballooning of the left ventricle. The stress induced characteristics of broken heart syndrome are rarely fatal but need to be addressed by a medical physician immediately. This is nothing to excuse, or ignore, as a self-diagnosed temporary condition. It is real and the symptoms can lead to short-term heart muscle failure that resembles a heart attack. I always suggest to the newly bereaved that they see their primary medical doctor after the loss of a loved one, even if they feel physically well, to inform the doctor of their loss and to get a wellness check. The effects of stress can be fatal!
The most common symptoms experienced are: chest pain and shortness of breath. I have also had folks, mostly women by the way, that describe the feeling of an invisible band wrapped around their chest that constricts breathing. A familiar statement is, “I just can’t get a deep breath.” I have pointed out that a common response to shock, or acute stress, is for someone to actually hold their breath. Completely unaware of what they are doing, a simple cue to “breathe” is often enough to bring awareness and return to a normal breathing rhythm.
Awareness is the best preventative medicine for many conditions and I encourage you to visit The Mayo Clinic and/or Johns Hopkins University websites to read their articles about broken heart syndrome.
Stay well, stay safe, stay informed. And...don’t forget to stay in touch!