Hearts Actually Can Break

“It seems that there’s a grain of truth to one old wives’ tale; it turns out that you really can die of a broken heart, especially if you’re a post-menopausal woman. The Wall Street Journal reports on a phenomena called ‘broken-heart syndrome,’ which often occurs after great emotional distress. Quoting: ‘In a conventional heart attack, an obstructed artery starves the heart muscle of oxygenated blood, quickly resulting in the death of tissue and potentially permanently compromising heart function. In contrast, the heart muscle in broken-heart-syndrome patients is stunned in the adrenaline surge and appears to go into hibernation. Little tissue is lost.’ In the article a doctor notes, ‘The cells are alive, but mechanically or electrically disabled.’ Documented cases track heart attacks in people with seemingly healthy hearts after the grief of the death of a loved one. Intense feelings can cause the heart actually to change shape. Doctors call this ‘tako-tsubo,’ after the Japanese phrase for ‘octopus trap,’ so called because the syndrome was first identified by a Japanese doctor who noticed the strange shape in the left ventricle. Doctors note that while strong emotions like grief are usually associated with the syndrome, stress or a migraine can also trigger such heart attacks.”

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2010.02.10