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Dec 02, 2011

Broken Heart Syndrome More Common in Women than Men

Learn about this mysterious condition causing heart attack-like symptoms, mostly in women.

Until recently, suffering from a broken heart was no more than feeling down and out, often the result of a rough breakup or the loss of a loved one. And as painful as it may be, most pull through these emotional situations in time. However, science may have given the term “broken heart” an entirely new meaning — one that is much more physical and serious.

Around 1990, researchers first recognized a condition that they called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome.” This condition occurs when an individual experiences extreme emotional stress resulting in heart failure or heart-attack–like symptoms such as chest pain and dizziness. But unlike a heart attack, there is no arterial blockage preventing blood flow. Instead, the sudden or prolonged stress triggers something in the body that prevents enough blood from pumping to the rest of the body or stops the heart completely. Although most recover within weeks from this condition, it has proven fatal in rare cases.

Since broken heart syndrome is a relatively new condition, researchers strive to learn more about it, from causes to treatment and prevention. Although the mechanism causing broken heart syndrome remains unknown, a few important discoveries have been made. In a recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s annual conference, researchers reported that among over 6,000 U.S. cases of broken heart syndrome in 2007, nearly 90% were in women. After analysis, they found that women were 7.5 times more likely to suffer from the syndrome than men, and women greater than 55 years old were 3 times more likely to suffer from broken heart syndrome than younger women.

Researchers are uncertain as to why broken heart syndrome is more common among women than men. Perhaps it is due to hormones or differences in the ability of their hearts to handle stress. But it’s clear that additional research is needed to shed light on this mysterious condition and help prevent the rare but serious cases that can prove fatal.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why is broken heart syndrome named Takotsubo cardiomyopathy?
  • Japanese researchers named this condition after a type of octopus trap (known as tako tsubo) that resembles the shape of the enlarged heart. “Cardiomyopathy” refers to a disease of the heart muscle.
  • How is broken heart syndrome (Takotsubo cardiomyopathy) treated?
  • Broken heart syndrome (Takotsubo cardiomyopathy) can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on the severity and cause of the condition. Once other causes are ruled out, patients may be treated with medication and most make a full recovery within one or two months.

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