I once suffered a heartbreak so extreme I thought I would die. It really felt like my heart’s taken a beating. No, not just a beating. It felt like it’s been stepped on, crushed and shattered.
No amount of consolation and bribery could get me out of bed. My sisters tried enticing me with shopping, my friends cajoled me with food bingeing but there’s just no getting me out. I’ve “taken to the bed” for a few days, nursing my broken heart until a day came that I had a hard time breathing and all I could feel was my heart pounding. I thought to myself “Wait a minute, this isn’t normal heartbreak, it really feels like my heart is in pain.” So I got up, played some “feel good” music, took a warm bath and forced myself to shop at the nearest mall. Thankfully, I got over that health episode and that heartbreak.
Looking back, I could have really died. Not of depression, but of the strain my depression is causing my heart.
Studies have shown that it can happen – healthy people with no known history of heart disease can exhibit heart-attack like symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath, congestive heart failure, low blood pressure and general weakness) when subjected to traumatic incidents or stressful situations. Situations such as, but are not limited to, can trigger this condition: unexpected death in the family or of a loved one, domestic abuse, losing a lot of money, unemployment, public performance, physical stressors such as asthma attacks, infection, major surgery, vehicular accidents and even surprise parties.
This condition was originally called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Today, it goes by different names – Broken Heart Syndrome (BHS), apical ballooning syndrome, or commonly referred to as stress cardiomyopathy. With broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges (thus the “ballooning”) and doesn’t pump well, but the remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions. Unlike with a heart attack, there are no blocked arteries with the BHS, although blood flow in the arteries of the heart may be reduced.
Research have shown that women are more prone to BHS because they are highly sensitive to to a key stress hormone, with even small amounts enough to send their emotions into a whirl, while most men are immune to high doses of it (Study done by Dr Rita Valentino from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia).
The exact cause of BHS is unknown, but experts attribute it to the unusual response of the heart to stress hormones (such as adrenaline) after an emotional trauma.
Although initially deemed as life-threatening, the symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and the condition usually reverses itself in about a week. The key lies, though, to proper diagnosis. You will be asked to undergo several procedures like:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). This will help your doctor determine irregularities in your heart’s rhythm and structure. You will be ask to lie down and a technician will place wires in your chest to record your heart’s electrical impulses.
- Chest X-ray. This will allow your doctor to see if there is any enlargement in your heart and if there’s any problem with your lungs.
- Echocardiogram. This includes an ultrasound of your chest to see if your heart is enlarged or is abnormally shaped.
- Blood tests. Your doctor may ask for blood test because most people who have broken heart syndrome have an increased amount of certain enzymes in their blood.
I often say in jest that I’d rather be broke than have my heart broken. People find it funny and amusing, but deep in my heart, I really mean it.