Everyone has had a broken heart at least once in their lifetime, but what many might be unaware of is that there is in fact a very real, physical condition that goes by the same name, although with drastically different symptoms than simply being lovestruck. What we do know about this condition is that it majorly is seen in women, and the onset occurs due to stress and extreme emotions. We decided to dig a little deeper into the nuances of this condition and spoke to Dr Oshin Behl for her expert insights on what exactly is Broken Heart Syndrome and why the name.
What is Broken Heart Syndrome?
The most important aspect of the condition is that it is temporary and thus unlike other cardiac conditions does not have a lasting impact. Following a major stressful situation that a person experiences, whether physically or emotionally, there is the onset of sudden chest pain that leads one to believe they are having a heart attack. But this isn’t one. Dr Oshin Behl Founder of Dr Behl Clinic says “Broken Heart Syndrome which is also known as stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo, is similar to other cardiac problems and at the same time different. Patients usually come in under the impression that they have had a panic attack, but later the ECG reveals that there was actually a disturbance in the heart muscle.”
So what essentially does happen, is a portion of the heart being affected. The rest of the heart continues to function, as usual, pumping blood and beating. Now to address the two most important questions, one being how do you know if you are having a heart attack when gripped by the pains, and how lasting is the damage following the syndrome. The major difference between a heart attack and Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, says Dr Behl is that in the latter there is no blockage of the arteries.
What causes Broken Heart Syndrome?
“There is a nerve called the Vagus nerve, that when stimulated can cause the heart to slow down,” explains Dr Oshin. “Some of the heart conditions are often related to psychological conditions and this could well be the link for the Broken Heart Syndrome too.”
Research also indicates that the reason for the sudden pain in the heart might be due to the rush of adrenaline, the stress hormone. The surge can cause damage to the muscle and this reverses in a few days or weeks. Any event that invokes in the person an emotional response of a great degree can be the precursor of the condition.
While previous research and studies have always pointed to the fact of heart attacks being more common in men than in women, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is said to be more common in women. But Dr Behl says there isn’t much known about why this is the case. “However, there might be a link. It is often seen by the medical fraternity that women are more susceptible to vagal syncope. When women experience a shock of some kind or when they are faced with stressful news, fainting episodes are more common in them compared to their male counterparts.” In older people, she says the reason is weaker heart muscles. A part of their heart muscle has a weaker blood supply and thus the rest of the heart beats faster causing chest pain.
Another risk factor is anxiety. Those who have a history of clinical depression can be more susceptible to stress, according to her.
How to detect the condition in time?
“Most of the cases of Broken Heart are seen in the emergency room,” explains Dr Behl. “We do not have a very old record of such patients because of the misdiagnosis. These patients usually present with chest pain and shortness of breath and are given aspirin or other medication that is given during a heart attack. When they later are carried to the cardiology unit, and if it is within the time frame when the heart is not functioning properly, the cardiologist might diagnose the person with a heart attack, as the heart portion is not working. Thus, even though the condition may have actually been Broken Heart Syndrome, it was diagnosed as a heart attack.”
The difference is that when it is a heart attack that the person has experienced, the part of the heart muscle to which the blood supply was cut off due to the partially or fully blocked capillaries, dies and cannot be revived. Dr Behl recounts her experiences in the ER during her practice and intern days. They did incur cases of Broken Heart. How did she know this for sure? She says the diagnosis at those particular times did not point to either a panic attack or a heart attack and thus a plausible explanation could be Broken Heart Syndrome.
How to prevent sudden chest pains?
An increase in stress levels during the pandemic due to isolation, depression, work situation etc. has brought this syndrome into the limelight. If a person does get this, there is medication that can be taken. “Management of emotional stress can be the most effective preventive measure.”
Along with this, there are other preventive measures such as beta-blockers that can limit the impact on the heart, which should only be taken under medical supervision. Managing diet, lifestyle and alcohol intake, can also be helpful in preventing another episode of the syndrome.
For any medical queries or consultation, you can reach out to Dr Behl at https://www.drbehlclinic.com/