Takotsubo Syndrome: the science behind dying of a broken heart

Nikki Wright August 26, 2020
Takotsubo Syndrome: the science behind dying of a broken heart

If you are anything like me and you are a hopeless romantic who has watched films like The Notebook on repeat, you may already know that it is possible to die of a broken heart. In medical terms, the condition, diagnosed in Japan in 1990 is known as ‘Takotsubo Syndrome’, more commonly it is referred to as ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’.

What causes Broken Heart Syndrome?

According to the NHS website, extensive research that has been carried out on the medical condition which is not fatal in most cases. The condition is caused by a muscle heart failure commonly triggered by specific or multiple stressful events that have occurred in someone’s personal life. There are in fact a number of reasons this medical condition can affect a person, both negative and positive, ranging from a break-up, a physical injury and the loss of a loved one through to an unexpected piece of good news. All of these outcomes can send shock-waves and excruciating pain internally through that individual’s body causing strain and pressure on the heart which in turn causes the heart to weaken and change shape.

The medical condition which commonly starts with severe and sudden chest pain is often mistaken for a heart attack. Shortness of breath and abnormal heart rhythms also known as arrhythmia are also common symptoms. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the symptoms can start to surface anywhere between minutes and hours after the event.

The condition can be diagnosed by tests, which can be easily carried out through urine tests, blood tests, cardiac MRI or an ultrasound scan. When it comes to the recovery process, the heart is a muscle and has been known to heal itself, however if you have any heart abnormalities the process can be more complicated. 

The good news is that most people recover within a matter of weeks.

Women more vulnerable to a broken heart

According to Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, women are more likely to be affected by the condition than men, in particular women over the age of 50. A younger heart recovers faster, so vulnerability increases with age.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A recent high-profile case of a broken heart presented itself when Debbie Reynolds, the mother of actress Carrie Fisher, passed away on December 28, 2016, just a day after her daughter’s untimely death.

The passing was too much to handle, according to various reports, and caused Debbie’s death by Broken Heart Syndrome the following day.

Reynolds was and had been suffering many health issues for many years, and Lennox Hill Hospital cited heart attack as the cause of death, but it is widely believed that it was a case of Broken Heart Syndrome.

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