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SmartHealthToday: Your heart can be broken . . . but it can be fixed too; know why and how

By Dianne Gebhardt-French

It’s more than a line in a poem. More than a lyric in a song.

Your heart can be broken.

It’s a medical fact, which can result from acute, significant and sudden stress.

“Acute stress could be a sudden, life-changing event” that can affect the heart muscle, said Dr. Mohanjit Brar, a cardiovascular disease specialist with St. Elizabeth Healthcare. It could be death of a loved one or a significant loss in business.

The good news: it is treatable and reversible.

“When you look at stress and the heart,” explained Brar, you can normally divide it into two categories – chronic or acute.  “We know that (acute stress) can affect the heart or affect the heart muscle – we call that broken heart syndrome or stress-induced cardiomyopathy.”

Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath, even in patients without a cardiac history.

Brar has seen it happen. Not too often, but it does happen. It happens more often in women and more frequently among women in their 60s and 70s. Brar described it as a “sudden weakness of the heart muscle that can go into heart failure.” A part of the heart enlarges and fails to pump effectively.

Recovery is generally four to six weeks, and the heart muscle generally recovers. Unlike a heart attack, there is no evidence of blocked arteries. It is rarely fatal.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports “a real-life broken heart can actually lead to cardiac consequences” with ties to depression, mental health and heart disease.
According to the AHA:
• Women are more likely than men to experience the sudden, intense chest pain – the reaction to a surge of stress hormones
• It could be the death of someone you love, a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection. It could even happen after a good shock (like winning the lottery).

SmartHealthToday is a service of St. Elizabeth Healthcare. 

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