'Broken heart syndrome' is real, not to be ignored

Emotions powerfully affect our health. Witness a heart attack-mimicking condition that’s become known as “broken heart syndrome." UW Medicine Heart Institute cardiologist April Stempien-Otero sees a handful of cases ever year that are serious enough to merit treatment in the intensive care unit.

“Most [cases] are associated with either a personal emotional trauma or also with natural disasters,” said Stempien-Otero. “It's totally biologic. I mean, it’s stress hormones. It is inflammation caused by those emotions in our brain.”

Symptoms of the syndrome, which is also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, include intense chest pressure, pain, and sudden weakness. Women are more likely to experience the condition after a stressful event, but Stempien-Otero has recently treated several men with the syndrome.

With supportive care, most patients can fully recover from symptoms within a couple of weeks, but in rare cases, ignoring the symptoms can lead to fatal heart muscle failure, she said.

“It's very moving, taking care of these people when they have that realization that this emotional event is what caused their heart [issue]. It’s just a real moment for people, of recognizing that heart-mind connection and what it can really do to us.”

Download broadcase-ready video assets on the warning signs and causes of "broken heart syndrome."

UW Medicine