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Broken Heart Syndrome On the Rise in Women

Broken Heart Syndrome On the Rise in Women

A recent study finds a sharp increase in broken heart syndrome, especially in women aged 50 and older. Broken heart syndrome is a life-threatening condition with symptoms that mimic those of a heart attack. Most often triggered by emotional or physical stress, it causes the main chamber that pumps the heart to enlarge temporarily and pump improperly. Most experience chest pain, shortness of breath, uncontrolled sweating, fainting, and nausea.

Also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome has been studied extensively for decades in Japan and other parts of the world but did not become well known internationally until 2005. In the U.S. study, roughly 135,000 cases of broken heart syndrome were studied in hospitals over a 12-year period, with women making up 88% of the cases. Researchers are alarmed to find the increase is almost 10 times higher in women 50 to 74 years old than in men and younger women.

While more research is needed, experts believe that a person’s reaction to physical or emotional stress causes a release of stress hormones that prohibit the heart from functioning properly. Findings may also point to later phases of menopause playing a role in disproportionately affecting middle to older aged women. Stress caused from the pandemic has also contributed to the rise in the number of cases. Environmental changes and an underlying genetic predisposition are also being considered as possible causes of the sharp increase.

This condition is rarely fatal and most recover in days or weeks, but the long-term effects are still being studied. Some research shows people who have had broken heart syndrome are at an increased risk of future cardiovascular events. In some cases, it can cause congestive heart failure, low blood pressure, and heart rhythm abnormalities.

Treatment generally include prescription heart medications to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate and can include other medications prescribed to help manage stress.

Talk to your doctor if you feel overwhelmed by stress and be proactive about your heart health. If you are short of breath, have chest pain, or feel faint, call 911 or go to the emergency room.