February is the month of love -- but if you find yourself suffering from a broken heart, there are ways to keep it from doing serious damage to your health.
Broken Heart Syndrome (BHS) is a condition that closely mimics a heart attack. Patients usually arrive to the hospital ER with chest pain and shortness of breath.
Sarah A. Samaan, MD, FACC, cardiologist and author of the book "Best Practices for a Healthy Heart," explains that the electrocardiogram (EKG) will show a pattern that looks exactly like a heart attack. Blood testing will show the typical elevation in heart enzymes and an echocardiogram (ultrasound) of the heart will show a weakened heart muscle with abnormal motion -- all suggesting a heart attack.
However, when taking a look at the heart arteries, we usually find them to be essentially normal, with no blockages, clots, or significant cholesterol buildup.
This syndrome was first described by Japanese researches in the early 1990s and was named Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. James L. Marcum, M.D. and author of "The Ultimate Prescription," elaborates that “tako-tsubo is a trap to catch an octopus. The condition was named this because the trap has a narrow neck and a wide base. This is what the heart looks like when this condition strikes.”
Experts debate the causes of this syndrome, but any events ranging from a sudden breakup, to a tough argument, to bad news about loved ones and family can trigger symptoms.
“No one is yet certain about what exactly causes the condition, but it seems to be due to a sudden, massive release of stress hormones like adrenaline, often caused by severe emotional stress or pain. However, some people who suffer from the Broken Heart Syndrome cannot identify any major stress,” says Samaan.
What experts do know is that women unfortunately are perceived as the weaker gender when BHS hits. Marcum says “women are much more likely to have this condition, more than 7.5 times more likely. No one knows why for sure. It has been speculated hormonal differences as well as a different number of stress receptors in women. I think women might be more receptive because of differences in the microvasculature, the small blood vessels of the heart.”
In this regard, Samman points out that previous studies show that the majority of women with BHS were premenopausal, and not on estrogen therapy. Therefore, a lack of the hormone may make older women more prone to suffer from this syndrome.
Samaan says that type D personalities seem to be at higher risk: “These are people that tend to keep their emotions bottled up. They also tend to have a negative outlook on life, always expecting the worst.”
Marcum advises that a person who tries to lower stress of all types will lower the risk. Eating healthy, exercising, having adequate rest and hydration, and maintaining a normal body weight are all factors that play a role to tolerate better stress and sudden situations in life.
The good news is that, with proper attention, “most of the time people make a full recovery with no long-term disability,” says Samaan.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.