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Die from a broken heart? It’s more likely if you’re a woman

Women are more likely to die of a broken heart than men. That may sound chauvinistic but it’s true.

Dr Ian Wittstein, Associate Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, said Broken Heart Syndrome, a clinical condition where the heart muscle suddenly becomes severely weak is more prevalent in women than men. Ninety-five percent of reported cases are in women.

The condition looks much like a heart attack except that there are no blockages in the arteries and the heart pumps in an unusual, but characteristic pattern. Unlike a heart attack, heart muscle in patients with Broken Heart Syndrome does not die, but rather is temporarily stunned. Patients can usually enjoy a full recovery with their heart function returning to normal after a few weeks or months, depending on the severity of the case.

While scientists are still studying the disease, Dr Wittstein said it is believed to be a condition that can happen because of low oestrogen levels.

He said postmenopausal women form the majority of cases and that this could be due to the loss of protection from oestrogen. Oestrogen levels drop sharply after menopause.

“The heart is more susceptible to stress,” he said. “The body produces large amounts of stress hormones and as oestrogen levels come down, the protection is not there anymore.”

He also said the condition is illuminating the importance oestrogen and other hormones play in getting blood to the heart.

It’s also likely that a significant number of women who were diagnosed as having a heart attack and heart disease, actually had Broken Heart Syndrome. Dr Wittstein put the figure at between five and seven percent.

“I would say almost every time I give this talk to a general audience a lot of people come up and tell me that they now know they were misdiagnosed,” said Dr Wittstein.

Caused by emotional trauma the condition does not build over time. It happens suddenly.

It doesn’t matter whether a woman is suffering a heart attack or Broken Heart Syndrome, if she shows the symptoms pain in the chest, pain radiating down the arm, shortness of breath and/or nausea treat it as a medical emergency because that’s what it is.

In Broken Heart Syndrome the heart muscle can become so weak that it doesn’t pump sufficient blood to the organs and the patient dies. Brought on by emotional trauma, we can say, the person died of a broken heart.

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Published August 16, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 16, 2011 at 9:30 am)

Die from a broken heart? It’s more likely if you’re a woman

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