Broken Heart Syndrome: Does It Really Exist?

Jul 03, 2016

How sad could you be if the lead character in the romance novel you’ve read died of a broken heart?


Did you know that it actually happens in real life?


This is called broken heart syndrome. Usually, it affects people who experience severe emotional stress. Your body’s stress response is a normal reaction, which carries us through difficult times. But for some people, their response to extreme situations can harm their heart health.

What is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Broken heart syndrome is a condition where overstress can cause failure to the heart muscles. The failure is severe, but usually short-term.


In a broken heart syndrome, the main pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle, weakens. It is usually led by severe emotional stress. It can be the loss of a loved one, a serious accident, or a natural disaster such as an earthquake. For this reason, the syndrome is also referred to as stress-induced cardiomyopathy.


Aside from stress-induced cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome is also called takotsubo syndrome by the Japanese doctors who were first to describe this condition. This is because during the disorder, the heart takes on a distinctive shape that resembles a Japanese pot (tsubo) used to trap an octopus (tako).

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome?

The most common signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome include:

  • Sudden, sharp chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Cardiogenic shock (heart can’t pump enough blood for the body)
  • Heart failure
  • Low blood pressure


Broken heart syndrome may be misdiagnosed as heart attack because they have similar symptoms and test results. But unlike heart attack, it shows no evidence of blocked arteries.

Can Happy Events Cause Broken Heart Syndrome Too?

Although the condition has long been associated with negative emotions, study shows that intensely happy event can lead to the same result. This is referred to as happy heart syndrome.


In the study, 96% of individuals had suffered a sad or stressful event, while 4% had experienced happy heart syndrome. Happy events that were found to have triggered the syndrome included a birthday party, a wedding, a surprise farewell celebration, a favorite rugby team winning a game and the birth of a grandchild. Nevertheless, none of these were fatal.

Does Someone with Broken Heart Syndrome Need to See a Doctor?

Yes. But don’t expect your doctor to give you a love potion.


If you’re having any chest pain, a rapid or irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath after a stressful event, seek medical assistance right away.


Broken heart syndrome can be life-threatening in some cases because it involves severe heart weakness. But on the brighter side, this condition improves very quickly.


The more fragile a person’s health is, the more likely the broken heart could worsen his or her medical condition.


You’ll never know how dangerous a heartbreak can become. So you might want to be gentle with other people’s hearts. 🙂