Whether it be your first love or the love of your life, enduring heart break is a stressful event that could trigger an episode of broken heart syndrome, a rare but serious health event. Experts at Baylor College of Medicine break down this condition and give advice on how to keep your heart healthy when you’re in or out of love.
“Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is a real condition that mimics the symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath,” said Isabel Valdez, physician assistant and assistant professor of medicine at Baylor. “If you’re experiencing these symptoms, go to the emergency room to get checked rather than assuming it is broken heart syndrome. The event itself can be scary, but there’s a high rate of recovery, the effects aren’t long term and the syndrome is very uncommon.”
Anyone can experience symptoms that resemble cardiomyopathy during periods of extreme stress. In terms of love, it could occur when a sudden, unexpected breakup happens. In less romantic contexts, people who have anxiety or go through a traumatic event may be at a higher risk of experiencing panic attacks that mimic broken heart syndrome. It also is not uncommon to see patients in hospitals who are undergoing extreme stress reactions.
Anxiety or panic disorder is very common in women, Valdez said, whether it be from romantic reasons or some other stressor, like a financial crisis or death of a loved one.
“We know women are at a high risk of heart disease and the physical signs of panic attacks and cardiovascular events can be misinterpreted,” Valdez said. “We can be better advocates for women and encourage them get checked for heart disease. February is American Heart Month, and this is the perfect time to reflect on how to best provide that space or guidance so that we can contribute to your loved ones’ heart health.”
Stress cardiomyopathy is a major health event, but other, seemingly less serious physical manifestations of stress often emerge and have a longer lasting effect on your health.
“Your mental and physical well-being go hand-in-hand, which is why it is important to do the work to keep yourself healthy,” said Dr. Mike Ren, assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor. “Constantly being stressed out can impact your immune system, diet and sleep patterns.”
In times of crisis, Ren reminds people to be aware of their lifestyles. Common unhealthy habits include binging on unhealthy foods or alcohol, inconsistent sleep patterns and falling out of usual exercise habits. Ren also recommends being aware of environments that cause stress and trying to avoid them, if possible. To keep up with mental health, Ren advises people not to be afraid to seek out professional help from a licensed therapist to discover what the road to a healthier mindset looks like for you.
“It’s good to remind people that stress cardiomyopathy is a rare disease and that most people who endure one completely return to normal heart function. Time heals all wounds, so when you experience heartbreak or other types of stress, remind yourself to keep up with your healthy habits and that there’s always going to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Ren said.
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By Aaron Nieto