Middle-Age Women at Risk for "Broken Heart Syndrome"

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Being a middle age woman is often a time of endings and beginnings. Your children leave for college while you take on caring for aging parents. The stress of it all may make you feel that your heart may be breaking – and in actually, it can be.

    ABC News’ Dr. Richard Besser and Bradley Blackburn reported that broken heart syndrome, which causes a seemingly healthy heart to begin working abnormally, is estimated to be the actual affliction of up to 2 percent of people who are diagnosed with a heart attack. Furthermore, studies suggest that up to 95 percent of patients who suffer from broken heart syndrome are middle-age women; most of these patients have gone through menopause.

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    The syndrome’s official name is takotsubo cardiomyopathy because left ventricle in the patient’s heart resembles a “tako-tsubo”, which in Japanese means a fishing pot used to trap octopus, according to Dr. Salim Virani of the division of Cardiology of the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, and his colleagues in an article in the Texas Heart Institute Journal. Broken heart syndrome also can be known as stress cardiomyopathy.

    Broken heart syndrome actually can cause symptoms that are similar to a heart attack, including chest pain, shortness of break, an irregular heartbeat, and generalized weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, what actually is happening in your chest when you have broken heart syndrome differs from a heart attack, Besser and Blackburn reported that medical experts believe the syndrome is caused by a surge of adrenaline and other hormones. “When patients experience an adrenaline rush in the aftermath of a stressful situation, the heart muscle may be overwhelmed and become temporarily weakened,” the pair stated.  The Mayo Clinic staff further added, “In broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions.”

    The Mayo Clinic reported that an intense physical or emotional event can trigger broken heart syndrome. These events could include news of an unexpected death, domestic abuse, a frightening medical diagnosis, a surprise party, performing publicly, the loss of a significant amount of money, or physical stressors, such as a car accident, major surgery, or asthma attack. Additionally, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that acute emotional stress can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, release of stress hormones, higher metabolic rates, a lower threshold for abnormal heart rhythms, and spasms of heart blood vessels that can lead to inadequate flow of blood to the heart.

    The good news is that this syndrome tends to be temporary. ABC News reported that nearly 95 percent of patients completely recover over a two-month period. Additionally, most people don’t have a relapse related to this syndrome. However, Dr. Virani and his colleagues noted that there isn’t any data in the scientific research regarding the long-term outcome for patients who have experienced broken heart syndrome.

  • To avoid having emotional stress-related heart issues, the JAMA recommended avoiding stressful situations as well as making important lifestyle choices such as exercising, eating a healthy diet full of (lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), not smoking, and limiting alcohol. You also should consider incorporating quiet times into your life, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, reading, or quiet time.  You also should consider talking about the issues you’re facing with family and friends so that they can be supportive of you.

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    As a middle-age woman, I hope you’ll join me in taking the necessary steps and time to ease the stress that comes along with the issues that we face at this age. Make a point of strengthening your heart so it won’t break when you’re facing difficult times.

Published On: August 29, 2011