How Stress Affects the Heart
“Heartaches, heeaartaches. What does it matter how my heart breaks?”
Patsy Cline sure knew how to sing it. And no doubt we’ve all felt heartache at some point.
But did you know that doctors now tell us our hearts can, in fact, break?
No, I’m not talking about a heart attack.
A lot of folks mistake this medically validated “heartbreak” condition for a heart attack, and why not? The telltale signs are pretty similar:
- Trouble catching your breath
- Chest pain
- EKG tests that come back abnormal
I wouldn’t blame you if you rushed to the hospital thinking you were in full cardiac arrest. But if you’re one of the lucky people who isn’t having a heart attack, your heart might have “broken” anyway.
Broken heart syndrome (its official name is takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is no joke.
It usually comes on after a big dose of stress. Like losing a loved one, or a pet. A car accident.
Getting some bad news, or a big surprise (even a surprise party could trigger it).
Or everyone’s #1 fear: public speaking.
There is no blockage in broken heart syndrome the way there is in most heart attacks.
Instead, your ticker stops ticking the way it should. The shock of the stress “stuns” your heart. It stops pumping at a normal rate, and before you know it—wham! You’ve got all the signs of a heart attack.
The good news is broken heart syndrome is treatable, and no real long-term damage to the heart.
Most folks recover in a couple of months, and of course, you have to keep an eye on those stress levels.
Your doctor might prescribe a beta-blocker or a similar med. And you know I’m going to recommend healthy heart practices like regular exercise and a varied, whole foods diet low in harmful saturated fats.
There are a couple of extra risk factors for broken heart syndrome you should know about. For example: age (most people are over 50). It’s also much more common in women than men.
Of the almost 15,000 people who go to the doctor every year with broken heart syndrome, the big majority of them are women.
And I suspect there are a lot more women with “broken hearts” who never go in at all.
Women typically play down their signs of a heart attack (because the signs can be so different than men – or what we see in the movies).
A lot of women don’t experience chest pain at all during a heart attack—instead, they’re fighting off nausea and indigestion, or serious fatigue.
I’d recommend women (and men) pay close attention to any signs that things might not be right. It might not be an out-and-out heart attack, but your heart might need some extra attention just the same.