The American Heart Association and Harvard Health both say, while it’s extremely rare, we can die from a broken heart.
They agree broken-heart syndrome (or stress-induced cardiomyopathy / takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is a real thing.
What does this mean? Basically it means the effects of a broken heart can impact cardiac systems in ways that appear to be heart attacks, but are physiologically very different.
Broken-heart syndrome is so similar to a heart attack that it’s often misdiagnosed, but it’s caused by something much different than blocked arteries.
It’s caused by extreme stress or emotional upset. Common triggers include:
• domestic violence
• intense fear
• sudden loss
• unexpected bad news
• fierce arguments
Not surprisingly, it strikes women more often than men (although Harvard Medical reports the condition is found in women exclusively.) It can even happen to women in very good health—with no family history of heart problems.
Symptoms include a sudden onset of extreme chest pain, shortness of breath and/or an irregular heartbeat. And tests taken at the time show increased stress hormones in the blood.
When this syndrome hits, a part of the heart enlarges and causes the left ventricle to misfire, while the other parts of the heart function as normal. Imaging shows a ballooning in the bottom left quadrant of the heart. (The way the heart enlarges makes it look like an octopus trap. Since the condition was first discovered in Japan, it was named “takotsubo” after the traps used by Japanese fishermen.)
Broken-heart syndrome leads to severe heart failure about 20% of the time (though it’s rarely fatal, and a majority of women recover within weeks instead of the months of rehab required after a heart attack.)
But it can become deadly when the weakened heart can’t keep up with the body’s demand for oxygen and nutrient rich blood.
A woman can find out if she has it by scheduling an MRI, EKG or echocardiogram, along with routine visits thereafter.
Did I Ever Have This?
I didn’t know about broken-heart syndrome when it was happening, but looking back I wonder if I had it.
When it really got bad in my marriage, I had sharp chest pains, yet doctors ruled out heart disease. I had an irregular heartbeat that wouldn’t show on an EKG. I also had shortness of breath, but I always attributed this to long seasons of stress-induced shallow breathing.
These symptoms usually lasted for two or three weeks after another bad conversation with my husband.
Yet, the more my marriage improved the more my heart returned to normal.
What About You?
So if your husband has shocked your system with accounts of betrayal, please don’t betray yourself by turning a deaf ear to what your heart is screaming at you: “Get me some help!”
Because when a couple tries to heal their relationship on their own, the woman’s heart is typically repeatedly broken. Why? Because, even when he’s sincere about wanting to quit, it is very difficult for a man to stop his porn habit on his own.
So even if our services aren’t a good fit for you, I still encourage you get help—no matter where you find it!
With effects like these, it’s not just his problem anymore.