A "Broken Heart" Isn't Just a Saying, It's a Real Medical Condition - Mercy Health Helps You Identify the Symptoms

(CINCINNATI; February 13, 2014) – Mercy Health, which provides advanced, compassionate and quality care in your neighborhood through its care network, wants you to know that if you’re feeling heartbroken on Valentine’s Day, you might actually be suffering from a real medical condition called stress cardiomyopathy.

“Broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, is a condition where intense emotional or physical stress can cause rapid and severe heart muscle weakness,” says Mercy Health Physician Muhammad T. Gill, MD, an Interventional Cardiologist and Peripheral Vascular Disease specialist who is part of Mercy Health – The Heart Institute.

Researchers coined the phrase “broken heart syndrome” after noting that many people with the condition had been grieving after having just experienced the death of a loved one, spouse or parent. The condition affects women more than men, with over 90% of reported cases of stress cardiomyopathy occurring in women. It’s especially common after menopause.

“In addition to the extreme emotional stress that can come from the death of a loved one, fear, surprise or extreme anger can trigger stress cardiomyopathy,” says Dr. Gill. “These strong emotional or physical events can activate our sympathetic nervous system, or ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, releasing adrenaline into the body. The sudden rush can stun your heart muscle, leaving it unable to pump properly.”

Symptoms usually begin shortly after exposure to severe stress. A patient suffering stress cardiomyopathy may experience similar symptoms to patients who are having a heart attack, including shortness of breath, chest pain, congestive heart failure and low blood pressure. As cardiomyopathy worsens and the heart weakens, other signs and symptoms can include dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting during physical activity and heart murmur.

Dr. Gill says no one should ignore those symptoms.

“Stress cardiomyopathy can be life threatening in some cases, but under the care of physicians familiar with the syndrome, most people typically make a quick and complete recovery.”

To determine what’s causing your symptoms, doctors will typically perform an angiogram, a quick and painless test that provides images of the major blood vessels that lead to the heart. During a heart attack, one or more of those vessels are often blocked. If the culprit is stress cardiomyopathy, those blood vessels look okay. In that case, doctors would typically perform an echocardiogram, which takes pictures of the heart. If one of the chambers of the heart, known as a ventricle, has taken on the distinctive shape of a Japanese fishing or octopus pot, it’s typically the telltale sign of stress cardiomyopathy.

Treatment for stress cardiomyopathy may include medications to help remove fluid from the lungs and improve blood pressure, blood thinners to help prevent blood clots and strokes and advice on how to manage stress through exercise, diet, support networks and meditation.

Patients with heart disease often have complex needs. Mercy Health – The Heart Institute provides patients with cutting-edge technology to both diagnose and treat heart disease. Whether a patient needs a non-invasive technique, interventional procedure, vein therapy or surgery, The Heart Institute’s team is committed to providing the highest quality care. The Heart Institute’s unique care approach follows the patient into good health by providing the appropriate rehabilitation, outpatient follow-up and education about how to stay healthy and prevent further complications.

Dr. Gill practices from Mercy Health – The Heart Institute, Anderson, located at 7502 State Road Medical Office Building II, Suite 2210 in Cincinnati, ZIP 45255-2800, 513-624-2070.

To find a Mercy Health physician in your neighborhood, or to learn about the services provided at Mercy Health, please visit http://www.e-mercy.com/physicians.asp.