Why Are Women More Vulnerable to Broken Hearts?
Women are a lot more likely to suffer a broken heart than men, researchers say. The good news is that it probably won't kill you.
In the first national study of its kind, researchers at the University of Arkansas looked at rates of "broken heart syndrome" — when a sudden shock or prolonged stress causes heart attack-like symptoms or heart failure — and found that it overwhelmingly affects women.
Women are at least seven times more likely than men to suffer the syndrome, and older women are at greater risk than younger ones, according to data presented Wednesday at the American Heart Association conference in Orlando.
It's the only cardiac condition where there's such a female preponderance," Dr. Abhiram Prasad, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who was not associated with the study, told the AP. Heart attack and heart disease, of course, strike men more often and earlier in life than women.
Broken heart syndrome can happen in response to shocking or suddenly emotional events — both positive ones like winning the lottery, or negative ones like a car accident or the unexpected death of a loved one. A flood of stress hormones and adrenaline causes part of the heart to enlarge temporarily and triggers symptoms that can look like heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heart rhythm. The difference is that the factors that would normally cause heart attack, such as a blocked artery, aren't present.
Most sufferers usually recover within a week or two, but in rare cases — about 1% — people die of the condition.
Doctors have long known about broken heart syndrome — first described by Japanese researchers two decades ago — and that it seemed to occur mostly in women. So, Dr. Abhishek Deshmukh, a cardiologist at the University of Arkansas who has treated women with broken heart syndrome, became curious about just how gender-specific the condition was.