• Broken-heart syndrome: Can you die from a broken heart?

    By: Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk


    Can you die from a broken heart?

    At times in life, the stress of the loss of a loved one or a devastating medical diagnosis can sure make you think that. But is there a physiological link between heartbreak and a heart that’s “broken?”

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    Doctors say there is, and they even have a name for it -- takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or “broken-heart syndrome.”

    The symptoms come on suddenly and are often confused with a heart attack. People who have suffered the loss of a loved one are often affected.

    A doctor in Texas suggested Monday that former president George H.W. Bush, who was hospitalized a day after the funeral for his wife, Barbara, could be suffering from the syndrome.

    A spokesman said Bush had an infection that traveled to his bloodstream but that he appeared to be improving. Bush is in intensive care at a Houston hospital.

    What is takotsubo cardiomyopathy and will it kill you? Here’s a look at the syndrome.

    What is it?
    Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a weakening of the heart’s main pumping chamber – the left ventricle.

    What causes the weakening of the chamber?
    It’s believed that after a stressful event – such as losing a loved one, being in an accident or experiencing a natural disaster – the release of a large number of stress hormones (such as adrenaline) causes a disruption in the heart’s ability to properly pump blood. That disruption weakens the left ventricle and causes it to balloon out as the heart beats.

    Is it a heart attack?
    Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is not a heart attack. A heart attack happens when a blockage in the arteries of the heart interrupts blood flow, causing tissue to be damaged or destroyed.

    Can it kill you?
    Yes, you can die from takotsubo cardiomyopathy, generally as a result of arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, but that rarely happens. In fact, most people recover from the condition within a few weeks to a month.

    Some people believe the takotsubo cardiomyopathy may have contributed to the death of actress Debbie Reynolds, who died in December 2016, a day after her daughter, actress and author Carrie Fisher died of a heart attack. Debbie Reynolds’ cause of death was listed as an intracerebral hemorrhage or a stroke.

    What are the symptoms?
    The symptoms mimic a heart attack – chest pain and shortness of breath after severe stress. An electrocardiogram can show abnormalities that look like a heart attack, but with takotsubo cardiomyopathy, there will be no evidence of coronary artery obstruction that would cause a heart attack.

    Tests will show abnormal movements and ballooning of the left ventricle.

    Who generally suffers from broken-heart syndrome?
    Overwhelmingly, it is a condition from which women suffer. According to a Harvard Medical School report, research shows women account for 90 percent of the cases diagnosed. The women in that study were between the ages of 58 and 75.

    How is it treated?
    Doctors usually prescribe medications such as diuretics (“water pills”), beta blockers and ACE inhibitors. They often prescribe aspirin, as well.

    What does the name mean?
    Takotsubo syndrome is named after a type of fishing pot used by Japanese fishermen. The pot is used to trap an octopus.

    The name comes from images of the heart following an occurrence of takotsubo. The ballooning of the left ventricle causes the heart to take on a shape similar to the fishing pot.

    Japanese doctors are credited with discovering the condition. It has only recently been recognized in the United States, according to the Harvard report.

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