For years we have explained away our emotional pain simply by saying we had a “broken heart”. Many have wondered why that expression was so popular and now it seems researchers at John Hopkins may have discovered the answer and finally put to rest the the question of whether or not we can truly suffer (or die)from a broken heart.
It was discovered that enduring extreme emotional distress can cause severe but reversible heart muscle weakness that can appear and feel just like a heart attack, but does not cause any long term permanent damage to the heart if the patient survives.
Although not often found in men, the condition, medically known as stress cardiomyopathy, is often found in women, especially those in later stages of their lives after a severe emotional upset in their lives such as the death of a loved one or sudden and unexpected ending to a marriage.
Upon closer examination of those suffering from what appeared to be a major heart attack, researchers found there were clinical variances between “broken heart syndrome” and real heart attacks.
Responding to the severe emotional distress of a situation, those who suffer stress related cardiomyopathy, release large amounts of catecholamines (notably adrenalin and noradrenalin) along with breakdown products and small proteins produced by a shocked nervous system into the blood stream. This is toxic to the heart, stuns the heart muscles and produces a pain in the chest that mimics a heart attack and can be accompanied by fluid in the lungs, labored breathing and heart failure. Although not a heart attack, it is a medical emergency!
What is absolutely unique to this condition is the previous lack of any indications that there are problems with the heart. It is possible that someone who has never had any artery blockages, high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease and are basically very healthy, can suffer, and perhaps even die, from Broken Heart Syndrome.
In subsequent testing of those who have suffered from this condition, it was discovered through extensive diagnostic testing and observation, that there were no elevated levels of cardiac enzymes found in the bloodstream (common in all heart attacks), no irreversible damage to the muscles in the heart and a rather rapid recovery time once hospitalized.
It is believed that in the past many were subjected to open heart surgery as a result of this condition when not necessary. Although this condition can be deadly if the influx of the hormones is potent enough, in the limited amount of case studies presented, there is not enough statistics available to know exactly how deadly this condition can be.
How stress hormones act exactly to stun the heart is unknown. The amounts of these hormones found in the patients suffering varied. The levels of hormones in the patients was two to three times the levels found in those experiencing heart attacks and seven to thirty-four times the normal levels found in most of us. Pretty significant numbers.
So after all these years of hearing about others broken hearts, or experiencing a few ourselves, our good friends at John Hopkins have scientifically verifiable evidence that yes, we do suffer from broken hearts, there is a pain we can experience in our chests when deeply hurt and it is a medical emergency in the worst cases that can risk our lives.