'Broken heart syndrome' is real, doctor says

Posted at 02/15/13 1:24 AM

MANILA, Philippines -- Being left by your partner or seeing your house razed by fire can lead to the real phenomenon of having an actual broken heart.

The so-called "broken heart syndrome" is similar to the extreme emotional stress typically associated with having a failed relationship.

Dr. Nicholas Cruz, chairperson of the Heart Institute of St. Luke's Medical Center, explained the newly discovered ailment as being essentially stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

"Nasisira 'yung muscle ng puso dahil sa sobrang stress, humihina nang biglaan... Ang theory nila, dahil sa sobrang taas ng adrenaline, naaapektuhan 'yung muscle ng puso at nagiging mahina 'yung puso kaya tinatawag na broken heart syndrome," Cruz told radio dzMM on Thursday.

"There's enough oxygen, pero sobra 'yung stress na inabot ng puso dahil sa taas ng adrenaline. Lalo siyang nagtatrabaho," he said.

When seen through the 2-Dimensional Echocardiogram, or ultrasound for the heart, the organ looks similar in appearance to a "takotsubo" -- Japanese for a fishing pot or pail used to catch octopus. The syndrome, Cruz noted, was first discovered in Japan.

According to Cruz, one theory in explaining the phenomenon is that the body automatically responds to high-stress situations by "protecting" the heart once it becomes overworked. This leads to the sudden "rest" of the vital organ.

When this happens, the "broken heart syndrome," Cruz said, can manifest through the following: chest pains, difficulty in breathing, faintness, and in some cases, fainting.

'Moving on'

The usual culprits, the doctor explained, are situations that induce extreme emotional stress. "Pwedeng namatayan, pwedeng iniwan, o nasunugan. Tragedy usually na nagbigay sa iyo ng extreme stress," he said.

A case cited by Cruz is that of a wife whose husband suffered from a heart attack (different from "broken heart syndrome," the doctor emphasized). "In grief at sama ng loob kasi akala niya mamamatay na ang kanyang husband, siya mismo nag-collapse doon sa hospital at nawalan ng malay," he said.

As with the given example, the ailment usually hits women aged 55 to 65 years old. Of the cases of "broken heart syndrome" recorded, 90% are of the said demographics, according to Cruz. "Kasi wala na silang protectional female hormones, at saka humihina narin ang puso habang tumatanda," he said.

But patients who suffer from it have been observed to easily recover. Although a number died due to "broken heart syndrome," Cruz said more than 90% of those struck with the ailment only had to de-stress to recover.

Medically, there are a number of ways to treat the problem. "Since hindi siya common, at ngayong lang ito nadi-discover, ang karaniwang binibigay lang na gamot dito is something that would relax the patient, get him or her out of stress at mayroong tinatawag na beta blockers, para hindi masyadong tamaan ng stress hormones 'yung puso," Cruz said.

He, however, advised that a good alternative would simply be to tackle emotional stress effectively.

Noting that 85% of diseases are due to stress, Cruz said anyone would do well not to keep negative emotions.

"Kung gusto mo pumunta ka sa pastor mo o sa pari, o tawagan mo 'yung kaibigan mo sabihin mo ang problema mo, 'yung paghihinga ng sama ng loob ay nakakabawas," he said.