The day I married my husband was truly the best day of my life. Being my best friend, he has always been there when I needed him. After 15 years of being together, I would be left broken hearted if something ever happened to him. Unfortunately, we have all heard that gut wrenching story. I’m referring to that sad story of the elderly, devastated widow, who passed away from a broken heart, shortly after her husband died. Is a broken heart such a thing?
The surprising answer is yes. Although it was not recognized as a physical ailment until the early 1990’s, Broken Heart Syndrome (BHS) is also known as stress cardiomyopathy. A recent death can immediately trigger your sympathetic nervous system, also called your “fight or flight” response. After a stressful event, the body produces an excessive amount of catecholamine stress hormones: Adrenaline, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine. The increase of these stress hormones can impair and weaken the heart muscle. In return, this causes your heart to not pump properly. If the heart does not pump out blood to the body strong enough, heart failure is possible. Cardiologist Abhiram Prasad, M.D., was the first physician to identify Mayo Clinic’s first case back in 2002. Generally not fatal, death occurs in only 1% of patients according to Prasad.
BHS, an inflammatory heart disease that temporarily affects the heart muscle, is often mistaken for a heart attack. Symptoms of BHS may include sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, and a high level of discomfort. Many patients are treated in the emergency room for a heart attack, only for the doctors to later find that patients were really just negatively coping with their spouses’ death.
Doctors are able to diagnose BHS by performing an angiogram. During an angiogram, images of the major blood vessels that supply your heart are taken. Unlike BHS, during a heart attack, some or many of these arteries are blocked. Doctors also rely on results from an...
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