THURSDAY, November 24, 2011
Is there broken-heart syndrome?
ECENTLY, SOMEONE ASKED IF IT WAS TRUE THAT SOMETHING CALLED BROKEN-HEART SYNDROME EXISTS. It does and it is clear women are more likely to have it. First, we better tell you exactly what the syndrome is because it may not be what you think. Broken-heart syndrome occurs when someone is hit suddenly with dramatic news or an event, even a good one like winning the lottery. What happens is it triggers a rush of stress hormones — especially adrenaline — that cause the main pumping chamber of the heart to enlarge. This, in turn, causes the heart to suddenly stop working correctly. In the hospital, diagnostic tests ordered by doctors show major changes in heart rhythm and blood samples show substances that would usually be there after a heart attack. What makes it different from a heart attack is there are no artery blockages that typically cause a myocardial infarction. Also, heart attacks happen more in winter whereas broken-heart syndrome is more common in summer. By far, the majority of people who have an episode of the syndrome manage to recover in a few weeks, but once in a while, it’s fatal — in about one per cent of the cases. Women are seven to nine times more likely to have an episode of broken-heart syndrome and this usually occurs after she has suffered either
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prolonged or sudden stress, such as what happens in a sudden death of a family member Medical science is still not 100 per cent sure why this happens to women far more than men, who make up about 10 per cent of victims and women over 55 were three times more likely to have an episode than younger women. About 10 per cent of people who have had one attack will have a second episode sometime in their lives. Research out of the Mayo Clinic indicated no one really knows why it affects more women than men. It is the only heart condition where there is such a huge difference between men and women, but the main theories involve the fact that men have more adrenaline receptors in their hearts so may be able to handle the sudden release of large batches of these hormones better than women. There may also be factors related to female hormones not found as much in men. The less scientific theory explaining the differences between men and women in broken-heart syndrome is the one expounded by many women: One must first have a heart in order for it to break, hence women suffer this syndrome proportionately more than men. We will not take sides on this debate, as we set out to answer a reader’s question — like we
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always promise to do — and this was what we found out. If you have a question about mental health, or how mental health affects our physical well-being, send us an email at
Kamloops@cmha. bc.ca and we will do our best to research and answer it for you, because the research also tells us the better informed we are, the better our mental health can be.
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Published on Dec 1, 2011