Orlando, Fla. — A woman’s heart breaks more easily than a man’s.
Females are seven to nine times more likely to suffer “broken heart syndrome,” when sudden or prolonged stress like an emotional breakup or death causes overwhelming heart failure or heart attack-like symptoms, the first nationwide study of this finds. Usually patients recover with no lasting damage.
The classic case is “a woman who has just lost her husband,” said Dr. Mariell Jessup, a University of Pennsylvania heart failure specialist who has treated many such cases.
Cyndy Bizon feared that was happening when her husband, Joel, suffered a massive heart attack in 2005. “May God work through your hands,” the Maine woman told the surgeon as her husband was wheeled past her into the operating room. She later collapsed at a nurse’s station from “broken heart syndrome” and wound up in coronary care with him. Both survived.
Japanese doctors first recognized this syndrome around 1990 and named it Takotsubo cardiomyopathy; tako tsubo are octopus traps that resemble the unusual pot-like shape of the stricken heart.
It happens when a big shock, even a good one like winning the lottery, triggers a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that cause the heart’s main pumping chamber to balloon suddenly and not work right. Tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances typical of a heart attack, but no artery blockages that typically cause one. Most victims recover within weeks, but in rare cases it proves fatal.