R. Todd Hurst, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist and a director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Banner – University Medicine Heart Institute, and associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. He tells a story how 16 years ago he was called to see a 49-year-old woman who was experiencing a heart attack.
She had all symptoms of a heart attack – an abnormal ECG, chest pain, and a blood test that showed a heart muscle damage. However, he noticed that she wasn’t fitting the frame of someone that should be at risk of a heart attack. She ate well, was very active, had a healthy weight, she had no family history of heart disease, and her blood sugar, blood pressure, and her cholesterol levels were amazingly good.
And he also noticed another thing: she started experiencing the symptoms soon after she heard that her loved one died.
“After discussing the options, we decided to perform a heart catheterization to evaluate her heart arteries. The results were surprising. First, her arteries looked completely normal. But the bigger surprise was that, despite her healthy arteries, the function of her heart was severely decreased, with about 2/3 of her heart not squeezing” he said.
He and his colleagues cannot believe their eyes. Even though they had decades of experience, none of them had seen something like that before. No one has seen a perfectly healthy young woman with normal arteries to have so disastrously damaged heart.
After some time, he learned that there is a syndrome called a broken heart syndrome that exists but is not completely understood.
“We do know that increased adrenaline and the sympathetic nervous system surge that occurs with stress play an important role, we also see evidence that the central nervous system and endocrinology system are involved. But why broken heart syndrome occurs in some people and at some times, and not others, is not understood.”
The medical literature shows that any type of stress can cause the broken heart syndrome, including lightning strike, public speaking, bad news, illness, cocaine use, argument, gambling losses, thyrotoxicosis, surprise birthday party, and so on.
And when we think about it, what’s really the heart? Scientists and doctors describe it as a pump for pumping blood. Poets and writers describe it as the center of our emotions and a sacred place when we feel both heartbreak and love. Who is right? Well, this syndrome suggests that both are right.
What do you think?