Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash


medical Nov 24, 2021

“Oh, I wouldn't mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.” If only Augustus Waters knew that heartbreak is no joke. Medically speaking, and otherwise!

The Internet might have made you well aware about this little fact, but you might still be a little skeptical, assessing the veracity in it, like we must do with most of the things the Internet throws at us. Well, I am here to tell you that it's true. Broken heart syndrome is as real as a heart attack. Or this pandemic!

Broken heart syndrome, also commonly known as stress cardiomyopathy, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is a real condition. As you may have guessed, it occurs as a consequence of terrible, shocking events and extremely bad news, like the death of a family member, due to financial burdens, etc. Interestingly enough, it can also occur as a result of a “good shock” (like ranking first in your entrance exam!). Unlike several other cardiac diseases, broken heart syndrome is more commonly seen in women, especially after menopause.


Temporary structural changes may take place in the heart as a result of this syndrome. These changes occur in the cardiac musculature, predominantly in the lower part of your left ventricle, one of the four chambers of your heart, causing it to enlarge. An interesting fact to be noted here is that, ‘Takotsubo’ is the Japanese word for an “octopus trap''. It has a narrow neck and a round bottom, which is pretty much how the left ventricle appears when affected by this syndrome. Hence the name, “Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy” .

As a result of these changes, the normal heart rhythm is disrupted and changes in the ECG are observed.

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya / Unsplash


The reason why broken heart syndrome deserves a discussion of its own, is due to the fact that, more often than not, broken heart syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy is misdiagnosed as a heart attack. This isn't very surprising as the symptoms in both these cases are almost indistinguishable. The most important ones being, shortness of breath and chest pain or angina.

What distinguishes a heart attack from a broken heart syndrome is that the latter is almost always temporary and is reversible. In broken heart syndrome, you do not have blocked coronary arteries or permanent heart damage, and usually make a fast and full recovery. Though deaths have occurred as a result of broken heart syndrome, they are extremely rare (about 1%), and this fact proves to be extremely relieving.

However, it is important that, in case you experience any such symptoms, you must contact a doctor immediately, and should never self-diagnose.


The reason why I write about this out-of-the-common condition is because I have seen someone really close to me go through it. The toll it took on the family, wondering if its a heart attack, and the confusion that clouded us when the diagnosis was laid down, even though most of my family consists of doctors, really put things into perspective and made me wonder how difficult it must be to comprehend, for those of you who do not belong to the medical community, that something so intangible like ‘stress’ could change the physical structure of our heart!

The take-home message here is that mental stress can cause physical harm, to an extent that can change the dynamics of your heart. Though not a reason to worry, broken heart syndrome can be mentally as well as physically exhausting.

It's important that we remember that there is sunshine after rain and we shouldn’t shy away from seeking help when times get tough.

As Henry Ford put it so eloquently, “ when everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it” !


Nuha Aleemuddin

Nuha Aleemuddin, a medical student by occupation, is a voracious reader and a table tennis player. She is interested in health research and aims to contribute and make a difference, via her work.

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