Broken heart syndrome more likely in women over 55 – Better life

In literature and film, emotional tragedy is often portrayed as a form of near-death experience. Now, experts are pointing to a coronary condition that highlights just how dangerous sudden emotional trauma can really be. Researchers call this “stress cardiomyopathy”, or more colloquially, “broken heart syndrome” (BHS). They warn that any sudden shock – from a death to a breakup or even acute anxiety over more everyday challenges – can cause a serious heart health problem.

However, not everyone is at the same risk, and in fact, some people are five times more likely to develop the dangerous condition. Read on to find out which factor can make you more susceptible to broken heart syndrome and why it can be such a serious threat to your heart health.

RELATED: If You Notice This While Resting Your Feet, Check Your Heart.

Most of the time, if your heart health suddenly takes a turn for the worse, there is an underlying physical cause. However, in some patients, this trigger is emotional. Pain, anger, fear and shock are some of the most common culprits. According to a 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, these sudden emotional stressors can result in “myocardial stunning” – a sudden weakening of the heart muscles resulting from acute ischemia or reduced blood flow to the organ.

In many patients with broken heart syndrome, the left ventricle — the heart’s main pumping chamber — can expand, sometimes causing heart failure. This can change the physical shape of the heart to an oval shape, a totally inefficient way to pump as it should.

Mary Brittingham, a former law professor at Georgetown Law School, told CNN that she experienced three episodes of broken heart syndrome at age 53, 56 and 69. Each was caused by a different emotional trigger: anxiety, anger, and fear, respectively. . “My cardiac enzymes were high, so they took an image and I had heart failure,” she recalled of her first cardiac episode. “My dad died of heart failure at age 36. So I was like, ‘Oh man, this is it.’ But I found out I didn’t have a heart attack or heart failure, I had broken heart syndrome.”

RELATED: If You Notice This While Lying On Your Back, Check Your Heart.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 88% of people with broken heart syndrome are women. Notably, these patients are most often postmenopausal women whose estrogen levels are in sharp decline.

Ilan Wittstein, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine and co-author of the 2005 study, recently explained to CNN that this is significant because low estrogen levels can affect blood vessels. “When you actually inject estrogen into a blood vessel, the blood vessel dilates, it gets bigger. So estrogen is a very important mediator of how blood vessels work in women,” he said. “In fact, studies have shown that the risk of broken heart syndrome increases fivefold after age 55 if you are a woman.”

While researchers are still investigating the full range of causes of broken heart syndrome, they have some promising leads. “We think it has to do with a dysfunction in the body’s fight-or-flight response, the release of chemicals like adrenaline, norepinephrine and dopamine that the body uses to prepare us to flee or stand up and fight,” says Wittstein. “With broken heart syndrome, we think that adrenaline is causing small blood vessels in the heart to constrict rather than dilate and temporarily reduce the amount of blood reaching the heart,” he adds.

Wittstein says one of the biggest revelations in her research is how subjective, and sometimes minor, emotional trauma can be, while still causing coronary symptoms. “It’s strange, when we started describing this, we thought it had to be triggered by a major tragedy, like the death of a loved one or a near-fatal car accident,” he said. “What we’ve seen over the years is that this is not true. Some of the triggers can feel quite mild.”

Some symptoms of broken heart syndrome can feel similar to a heart attack – for example, sweating, chest pain, and shortness of breath. However, follow-up tests often reveal a very different prognosis for those with BHS. CNN reports that “unlike a heart attack, which is typically caused by blocked arteries, these early patients had ‘normal, pristine coronary arteries,’ with little to no evidence of cholesterol and plaque.” Heart muscles recovered exceptionally quickly after a cardiac episode, returning to normal function within weeks or even days.

“In the first few years, we were surprised at how quickly we would see the hearts perk up again. It’s almost as if they were waking up,” said Wittstein. “I remember people who were sent to our center because they thought they would need a heart transplant. And a week later they are home,” he added.

Still, you should never rule out potentially serious heart symptoms or assume they will resolve on their own. Call 911 right away if you notice signs of broken heart syndrome and especially if you suspect a heart attack.

RELATED: The 3 Signs Your Chest Pain Isn’t a Heart Attack, Experts Say.

Leave a Comment