This is What Happens When a Heart Breaks

Be Healthy

When someone complains of suffering from a broken heart, the image of a love-dejected person camped on the couch watching sappy romance movies while sobbing over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s immediately comes to mind. 

But broken heart syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is a real condition with real medical consequences. 

Broken heart syndrome is a reaction to a surge of stress hormones brought on by an extremely emotional event, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce or breakup, romantic rejection or major financial loss. 

“Broken heart syndrome is a reflex response to an acute stressor causing a temporary weakening of the heart muscle,” says Hollie Seward, an outpatient nurse practitioner with the Pali Momi Heart Center

According to Seward, broken heart syndrome mimics the symptoms of a heart attack – so much so that many patients will have physical symptoms that resemble a heart attack, such as chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath. 

“Blood tests may reveal elevated biomarkers for heart damage and heart failure, and an EKG may show changes similar to a heart attack,” Seward notes. “However, imaging of the heart will reveal that there are actually no major blockages in the heart’s arteries.” 

When your heart “breaks,” a part of your heart actually enlarges. 

While this temporary enlargement causes depressed heart-pumping function in that area, the rest of your heart functions normally.

Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) or cardiogenic shock also may occur during broken heart syndrome. 

The good news is that broken heart syndrome is very treatable, and most people who experience this condition make a full recovery quickly. 

“For the majority, this condition is reversible with aid of medications, and most can be taken off medications once they recover,” Seward says. 

Because broken heart syndrome can be confused with a heart attack, it is important that any person who experiences symptoms they think are caused by a heart attack call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department immediately. 

A lapse in action can lead to a delay in receiving quality care, which can lead to further health complications later on.



Published on: February 15, 2023