A broken heart can do more than just cause emotional distress; it can actually comprise your heart health and cause physical heart problems. In fact, a broken heart brought on by an emotional stressor such as the death of a loved one or the discovery of a partners infidelity, can affect your heart health in a plethora of ways and the condition is aptly known as ‘broken heart syndrome.’
According to Mayo Clinic, broken heart syndrome can cause symptoms which are similar to those experienced during a heart attack and stroke. The most common symptoms include sudden and intense chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat and feelings of weakness.
Although broken heart syndrome is most often caused by an outside event or mental stressor, it has a real and physical impact on your heart health. The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unknown; however preliminary research suggests that it is caused (at least in part) by a surge of stress hormones. More specifically, the stress of a broken heart causes a sudden surge of stress hormones such as adrenaline to flood your body and to temporarily weaken your heat. The flood of hormones also causes a part of your heart to temporarily enlarge and it reduces the ability of that specific part of your heart, to pump properly.
The rest of your heart either functions normally or it responds by pumping with forceful contractions. The stress hormones may also contribute to heart problems by causing the arteries of the heart to temporarily constrict.
It should be noted that broken heart syndrome vastly differs from a heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks are usually caused by a build-up of fat in the heart arteries and a blood clot which blocks the flow of blood to the heart. Stokes also occurs from a blockage of blood flow, only the blockage effects the brain instead of the heart. Although broken heart syndrome may cause a temporary reduction of blood flow to the heart, it does not cause a complete blockage of the heart arteries.
It is estimated that 1 to 2 percent of patients who are diagnosed with heart attacks are actually suffering from broken heart syndrome. Women are much more prone to experiencing heart problems from a broken heart then men, with 90-95 percent of all patients being female. Age is also a factor, and the majority of patients are over the age of 50. Broken heart syndrome is also much more common amongst post-menopausal women. The exact reason for this is unknown; however it is likely due to hormonal differences caused by menopause.
The good news is that most patients, who experience heart problems caused by a broken heart, will experience complete recovery within two months. Also, unlike heart attack and stroke victims, patients with broken heart syndrome almost never experience long term damage. In fact, in a 5 year follow-up study, not one patient had experienced a recurrence.