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THE SCIENCE BEHIND A BROKEN HEART

Oheneba Kwakye Omane
Oheneba Kwakye Omane

A lot would agree that the heart is arguably the most important organ in the body. I'd be torn between picking the brain and the heart when personally making that claim. I could say the brain does all the thinking whiles the heart does all the hard work; nonetheless, keeping them happy and in a good mood means they taking very good care of your entire system. With that being said, there are a couple of things that can get the heart fumbling. For starters, one phenomenon that can have negative impact on the health of your heart is ‘chronic stress’. Stress can be beneficial if it is short term because stress helps to release hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and prepares your muscles to respond. If your stress levels stay elevated for a long than necessary time, it can take a toll on your health. Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Stress is basically how your body reacts to a challenge. When you feel emotional or physical tension (feeling frustrated, nervous or angry) you are under stress.

Today we take a look at the medical condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Another name is ‘stress-induced cardiomyopathy’ or simply ‘the broken heart syndrome’. Let us break down the word cardio-myopathy. Cardio means - relating to the heart and myopathy is a general term referring to any disease affecting the muscles that control voluntary movements in the body.

What is broken heart syndrome (Takotsubo cardiomyopathy)?

So the broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition where the left ventricle of the heart; the main pumping chamber becomes enlarged for a short time and eventually gets back into its normal shape and size after a while. This is often brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. The condition can also be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. This causes the muscular portion of the heart to suddenly become weak for some time.

Evidence points to a strong brain-heart interplay here. It is believed that within a few hours of an extreme emotional or physical trauma, stress hormones cause transient (lasting only for a short time) “stunning or shock” of the left ventricle, which is the main heart chamber that pumps blood out to the rest of the body. As a result, the heart becomes temporarily “frozen” and cannot pump enough blood forward. This causes poor circulation and even shock, or death, in more extreme cases. What is fascinating is the fact that stress-induced cardiomyopathy, despite its serious presentation, is usually rapidly reversible. The ventricle typically returns to normal within 14 days, and most patients recover with no long-term heart damage.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy was discovered in Japan in the year of 1990. The word ‘takotsubo’ is a Japanese one which means ‘octopus pot’ because the left ventricle of the heart converts into a similar shape developing a narrow neck and a round bottom.

The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear. It is thought that a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might temporarily damage the hearts of some people. How these hormones might hurt the heart or whether something else is responsible isn't completely clear.

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome

People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they are having a heart attack. Broken heart syndrome affects just part of the heart, temporarily disrupting the heart's normal pumping function. The rest of the heart continues to function normally or may even have more forceful contractions. The symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and the condition usually reverses itself in days or weeks. A temporary constriction of the large or small arteries of the heart has been suspected to play a role. As stated earlier, broken heart syndrome is often preceded by an intense physical or emotional event.

Some causes & Risk factors of broken heart syndrome

Hearing and experiencing very bad or negative news is the major culprit here. For example, news like the death of a loved one, divorce, break up or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection, being diagnosed of a frightening medical condition, domestic abuse, losing lots of money, having strong arguments, job loss or financial difficulty. Physical stressors, such as an asthma attack, COVID-19 infection, or even a major surgery can also contribute to broken heart syndrome. It's also possible that some drugs, rarely, may cause broken heart syndrome by causing a surge of stress hormones. There are a number of known risk factors for broken heart syndrome, including:
Sex:- The condition affects women far more often than men.
Age:- It appears that most people who have broken heart syndrome are older than 50.
A history of a neurological condition:- People who have neurological disorders, such as a head injury or a seizure disorder (epilepsy) have a greater risk of broken heart syndrome.
A previous or current psychiatric disorder:- If you've had disorders, such as anxiety or depression, you probably have a higher risk of broken heart syndrome.
It's also possible that you may have broken heart syndrome again if you have another stressful event. However, the odds of this happening are low.

The way out

Many doctors recommend long-term treatment with medications that block the potentially damaging effects of stress hormones on the heart. Recognizing and managing stress in your life also may help prevent broken heart syndrome

It is essential to take good care of your heart and also to manage your stress levels effectively. Statistics show that about 20-25% of the victims, who have already suffered from broken heart disease or takotsubo cardiomyopathy one time are more likely to experience it another time as well. Hence, it is imperative to take precautions at an early stage to deter the possibility of another attack, which might prove to be life-threatening. Protect the flow of information that enters your subconscious mind (heart) since the Bible even admonishes us to guard our heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). You can ‘practice’ siphoning the good news out of the bunch since you cannot control what you hear. Always try and focus on the what you have, rather than what you have lost and even when the terrible news hit you, convince yourself that you are in GOD’s safe hands and everything would be alright in due time. Lastly, try to let go of the pain behind hurtful words. Be safe and remember a broken heart is no fun thing to joke with.

REFERENCES

Boken-heart-syndrome-takotsubo-cardiomyopathy-symptoms-and-causes. Retrieved from https://www.sunshinehospitals.com/broken-heart-syndrome-takotsubo-cardiomyopathy-symptoms-and-causes/. 4/28/2021

American Heart Association. (2021). What is cardiomyopathy in adults/ is broken heart syndrome real. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiomyopathy/what-is-cardiomyopathy-in-adults/is-broken-heart-syndrome-real

Dr. Sanjeev Kumar – MBBS, MD(General Medicine), DM(Cardiology) Prasad A, et al. American Heart Journal (2008), Vol. 155, No. 3, pp. 408–17; others.

Oheneba Kwakye Omane

Health Enthusiast and Futurist