Dying of a broken heart is possible—especially during the holidays!
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This fact came to light recently at a conference for primary-care physicians at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital. The conference was focused on “Takotsubo Syndrome”, a type of stress cardiomyopathy, or (literally) broken heart, which tends to attack older women suffering severe emotional turmoil.
The typical symptoms of Takotsubo Syndrome present themselves in the same manner as a heart attack, and include the following:
- Breathing difficulties
- Excessive sweating
- Chest pain
The trouble arises when emergency medical staff test for cardiac enzymes, hook the patient up to routine electrocardiogram monitoring, and routinely check the arterial blood flow with an angiogram. They won’t find a blockage with these. However, with an echocardiogram or a cardiac MRI, they will discover that the patient’s left ventricle has spasmed into a shape resembling a takotsubo pot, which is a pottery vessel used by Far East fishermen to trap octopi (and explains the syndrome’s name). The result: a severe interruption in blood flow, similar to a heart attack, but in reality, a broken heart.
Takotsubo Syndrome was first discovered in Japan, in 1991, but since that time physicians have discovered cases caused by emotions ranging from heated arguments with a loved one to breakups and even spousal deaths.
The takeaway from all this is that our emotions—especially during stressful times like the holidays—a can affect our physical health when the realization of loneliness, anxiety, or alienation from loved ones results in a serious cardiac event.
So take care during the holidays, and remember to smile at that grumpy shopper who almost barreled into you at the mall or that terrible lady who stole your parking spot. A smile or a heartfelt hug can go a long way in brightening an otherwise lonely holiday. The old adage that it’s impossible to die of a broken heart might not hold true any longer. However, the good news is that if Takotsubo Syndrome is diagnosed early on it is very possible to survive a broken heart after all.
Source: The National Post