A report that aired on Monday night on "NBC Nightly News" claims that a broken heart is a medical syndrome that can be as lethal as a heart attack or a stroke.
Most people have watched a relative or friend pass away not long after the death of a loved one, as if their grief became too great a burden to bear. Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researcher Dr. Ilan Wittstein alleges that sudden emotional stress, such as a breakup, a sudden shock, the death of a loved one or even a car accident can produce physiological changes that mimic those of a heart attack.
Heart attacks are called by blockages in the heart or the vascular tissue around it. This phenomenon, however, called broken heart syndrome, is more accurately described as the heart being stunned.
Women in their 60s and 70s are particularly vulnerable to this type of cardiac event, which occurs when the sudden rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones experienced in shock causes part of the heart muscle to spasm while another section balloons outward, suspending the flow of blood. In about one in three cases, the condition is serious enough to kill without medical attention.
"It can be very serious," said Wittstein. "People can die from it - no question."
"Even though the heart is not permanently damaged, the heart is a pump and if that pump is suddenly stunned and can't pump, than the whole body isn't getting the blood flow that it needs, so the sickest examples of broken heart syndrome have been critically ill in the intensive (care) unit."
The syndrome can also "weaken the heart muscle, lower blood pressure, cause fluid in the lungs and even clinical heart failure," said the Gazette of Montreal.
Ninety percent of the patients studied so far have been women, but anyone under stress is vulnerable. Wittstein said that the best treatment for the disorder is time.
"Time is simply needed for recovery," he said. "Once patients get through the first couple of days, the heart improves on its own."
Watch the report, which aired on the NBC Nightly News on Monday, Sep. 24, and is embedded below: