Do Broken Hearts Actually Happen?

July 26, 2022

Widowed woman clutches her chest as she grieves and suffers from broken heart syndrome

It’s a common theme in virtually every romantic comedy and a term used to describe truly unfortunate events. But does the concept of a broken heart actually exist, and can it cause legitimate problems?

Broken heart syndrome is a real concept, but the technical term for it is stress-induced cardiomyopathy. It can also be referred to as takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Broken heart syndrome can have similar signs and symptoms to a heart attack, and some patients who experience it will end up in the ER. However, while both often involve significant chest pain, known as angina, broken heart syndrome is usually induced by extreme psychological stress.

Interestingly, many patients who experience broken heart syndrome are healthy and have no major underlying cardiovascular diseases. A psychological event triggers the entire episode.

Broken Hearts and Arrhythmias

Cardiac arrhythmias or abnormal heartbeats are common signs of broken heart syndrome. Because stress-induced myopathy can lead to short-term heart failure (by temporarily enlarging the heart), the heart may lose its normal rhythm while increasing the strength of its contractions to maintain blood flow around the body.

Much like cardiac arrhythmia, the short-term effects can vary in intensity and are typically temporary. However, there is a very rare chance of death.

Stress Management Can Help a Broken Heart and an Arrhythmia

While extreme stress may induce broken heart syndrome, even mild, chronic stress can increase the risk of arrhythmia. As such, we always preach stress reduction techniques in our practice to help patients manage their cardiovascular concerns. Getting enough sleep, proper diet and exercise, and early identification of stressful situations can contribute to a better lifestyle and improved management of cardiovascular diseases. Remember, while we cannot escape stress entirely, we can react to it appropriately and recover from it quickly.

For more information about cardiac arrhythmias, we encourage you to contact our office and schedule a consultation with Dr. Banker to fully evaluate potential arrhythmias and a treatment plan.