A broken heart really can kill you, study reveals

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A broken heart really can kill you, study reveals

By Jessica Ivins | Posted - Sep. 3, 2015 at 9:48 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Forget everything you thought you knew about the business of a broken heart.

While some might identify symptoms as uncontrollable crying, an insatiable appetite for Haagen Daas, inability to sleep and overall hopelessness, an actual broken heart will bring chest pain, dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath and fainting — and it can actually kill you.

That's because in reality, a broken heart is a rhythm disorder known medically as a takotsubo — or stress — cardiomyopathy, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. It's caused by severe stress or emotional trauma — brought on by grief, fear or anger — and literally changes the shape of the heart by weakening the muscle.

Oftentimes, broken heart syndrome is the supposed culprit in cases where a husband or wife dies shortly after his or her spouse.

The problem with this kind of broken heart is that there's still much to be learned about cause and treatment, so a team of doctors from around the world decided to get down to the business of mending, according to Today.

For the study, which was published in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine — researchers studied medical records of 1,750 people from the U.S. and Europe who were diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy between 1998 and 2014.

About 90 percent of those studied were women.

In terms of cause, researchers found that physical triggers, not emotional ones, were more likely to induce the disorder. Physical trauma such as surgery, broken bones or brain injury made up 36 percent of the cases, according to the study.

Emotional trauma, on the other hand, was responsible for just 27 percent of cases, while researchers couldn't identify a specific trigger in one in four patients in the study.

What is...
... takotsubo cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome)?
A temporary heart condition often brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one, that causes a temporary disruption of the heart's normal pumping function. Symptoms include sudden chest pain, dizziness and fainting. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

Other factors identified in the study: More than half of the patients had neurological or psychiatric disorders. While women were nine times more likely to suffer from the disorder, men were more likely to die of the condition.

"This condition has been thought of as a benign disease, but it is actually a life-threatening disease," researcher Jelena Ghadri told MedPage Today. "It is an acute heart failure syndrome associated with substantial morbidity and mortality."

Researchers also found that the risk of complications from the disorder was high — with stroke, transient ischemic attacks and death being the most frequent.

While takotsubo is most often treated with beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, researchers pointed out that there are currently no solid guidelines for how to best control the condition. More studies are necessary to determine the most effective way to battle the disorder.

"Since ours was a retrospective study, we are not sure what to make of this," Ghadri said. "A prospective study is needed to better define the optimal treatment for this disorder."

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Jessica Ivins

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