If most of us didn't have at least one experience of heartbreak in our sentimental archive, we wouldn't also have famous songs dedicated to the very subject. Each of us has had our hearts broken at one point or another! But can our health truly be damaged by heartbreak?

There are situations, especially in matters of love or heartbreak, that can cause us to feel sad for days, and makes us feel miserable and think this is the end of our existential sense. Yet these feelings are only temporary. Yes - it can hurt, a lot, but it is just a few passing moments of anguish. It takes more than this, a great amount of sadness, anger, fright, or even surprise that generates a physical impact to our heart, causing stress cardiomyopathy known as broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo. This is what can cause real problems.

When excessive emotion complicates our health

On those occasions where emotions are very intense, or we carry the burden of being under a lot of stress, we may experience the same symptoms as a heart attack:

  • Chest pain.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • Cold sweat.

  • Feeling weak or fatigued.

  • Irregular heart rhythm.

It can become even more complicated:

  • Increased risk of pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).

  • Blood pressure can drop too low.

  • Heartbeat may stop suddenly.

  • May experience heart failure.

Is this condition caused only by a romantic separation?

No, broken heart syndrome can happen due to any event that triggers very strong emotions or high stress. This includes the ending of a relationship but is not limited only to this reason. Other causes can include the unexpected death of a loved one, losing your job, sudden news that affects us too strongly emotionally, heavy financial loss, even from positive events such as a surprise party that causes overstimulation. 

Why does this happen?

  • When a person suffers a very stressful situation or from intense emotions, they abruptly begin releasing certain hormones such as norepirephrine, epinephrine and adrenaline.

  • The excess of these stress hormones affects the heart muscle, causing it to go numb. At that point, the left ventricle of the heart inflates and takes on a cone or balloon shape. In fact, when Japan recognized this syndrome in 1990, they labeled it Takotsubo because of the shape which is similar to a fishing pot of the same name.

  • The heart also weakens, stops contracting at the normal rate, and starts contracting very slowly. Since the heart regulates pumping the most blood, as it loses strength the person retains fluid in the lungs and begins to show symptoms such as chest pain. Initially, doctors may believe that it is a heart attack. Only after performing the appropriate tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI, can physicians tell the difference. 

  • Doctors can verify, for example, that the contraction is irregular and much weaker.

  • Another determining factor that makes the difference between a heart attack and broken heart syndrome is artery blockage. With Takotsubo, arteries are completely clear.

  • If, after talking to the patient or a family member, a physician finds that the patient has recently experienced a very stressful situation, they can confirm if it is a case of broken heart syndrome.

Who is more likely to suffer from broken heart syndrome?

  • It is a much more common occurrence in women. According to the International Takotsubo Registry, which gathers data from patients in Europe and America, about 88.9% of patients are women with an average age of 66.4 years. It mainly occurs after menopause, most frequently after the age of 50. This is because estrogen helps protect the cardiovascular system, but when it decreases after menopause, it leaves women more vulnerable. 

  • It also tends to occur more often in people with heart disease or asthma, and in those who suffer from emotional or anxiety disorders.

What to do in the case of a person exhibiting symptoms of a broken heart?

When a person has recently experienced a very intense emotion and feels the symptoms described above, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, there is no time to wonder if it is the syndrome or a legitimate heart attack. Call or go to the emergency room at once.

Remember that the symptoms of broken heart syndrome and a heart attack are so similar that professional help needs to be sought immediately. Even without a history of coronary heart disease, time is of the essence to check whether there is obstruction in the arteries or not.

When it comes to broken heart syndrome, usually after a few days of treatment the co-ratio returns to normal and mortality risk is less than 5%. Sometimes, however, the person may have to undergo cardiac catheterization treatment or may even require hospitalization in intensive care.

Can we prevent broken heart syndrome?

There is no guarantee that an unforeseen situation will not end in an episode of broken heart syndrome, but the best ways to decrease the risks include healthy habits such as:

  • Try to control stress and avoid, as much as possible, situations that are upsetting. In this aspect, it is very important to have practical tools such as breath work, relaxation techniques, or other modalities that help us better manage our reactions to unexpected moments.

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes daily.

  • Maintain a healthy diet.

  • Find ways to channel emotions in a healthy way, like with hobbies, friendships, support groups, etc.

  • Don't forget to attend regular medical check-ups.

  • Strengthen the heart by consuming the main nutrients it needs to stay healthy, including Omega 3 essential oils and coenzyme Q10. These can help control inflammation and keep cholesterol and triglyceride levels low, helping regulate proper blood clotting.

Before having to endure an episode like broken heart syndrome, try reducing the risk by searching additional tools that will allow you to achieve greater emotional stability. When a trigger of sadness, pain or deep discomfort crops up, we can be better prepared to handle it in the most beneficial way possible. Check out our blogs for more ways to manage stress, improve your eating habits, exercise, and support your heart health. We don't want any out-of-control emotions, whether good or bad, to land you in the hospital.

If you want to learn more about this topic, check out this video from Dr. Juan.

Let's get healthier, together.

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