Heart Failure
A man, whose surname is He, cuddles the body of his dead wife during a sub-zero evening in Shenyang, Liaoning province December 17, 2014. The man sat by the roadside while holding his wife's body for almost two hours till his son came and persuaded him to bring the body home, according to local media. The wife had just bought medicine from a pharmacy when she collapsed in a street and died of heart failure. Picture taken December 17. Reuters

When someone claims to have a broken heart, the expression is not merely a metaphor to describe feeling an intense emotion. As a matter of fact, experts believe that this may be an actual medical condition.

Researchers from the New York University Langone Medical Centre label the pain felt from losing a loved one as stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which many elderly women believe to be a real heart attack.

Harmony Reynolds, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Centre, told CBS news that the broken heart syndrome has many names. Nevertheless, this is a heart attack type syndrome that is why many patients report the same symptoms of a usual heart attack. In fact, the condition exhibits the right symptoms as evidenced by the patient’s EKG (electrocardiogram), leading physicians to misdiagnose this as a heart attack.

However, Reynolds noted that heart arteries are blocked during a typical heart attack, but in a broken heart syndrome, the arteries are open. Interestingly, the damage to the heart muscle can be greater with the broken heart syndrome. However, this syndrome goes away completely. The symptoms may last from a few weeks to months, to which it can eventually be fatal. Consequently, the heart goes back to normal if people survived the initial incident.

Published in the American Journal of Cardiology, the study involved analysing 20 women to look for explanations on why some women experience the broken heart syndrome. Reynolds added that the condition is generally thought to be rooted in strong emotions like anxiety or grief.

"It gets the term broken heart syndrome because it's often from a severe emotional stress like the death of a loved one or some very upsetting news," Reynolds said. "After almost having an accident, we've seen a couple of patients like that."

Physical stress can also cause this. The researchers report that a woman got the condition after white water rafting. Sometimes, this results from the combination of emotions and physical stress. At times, there is no trigger at all.

The researchers insist that patients should immediately seek medical help if they think they are experiencing a heart attack. Experiencing chest pain in any situation requires consultation, Reynolds suggested.

The broken heart syndrome was initially identified 25 years ago in Japan. In 2012, 6,230 cases were reported in the US. Ninety percent of the patients were women. On the average, the condition usually happens at the age of 65 years, during the post-menopausal years.