These Are The Signs You Have Broken Heart Syndrome

As Oscar Wilde wrote, "hearts are made to be broken," and while the human heart may not literally split in two, it can actually break. If you've ever lost someone whom you loved, either to death or a breakup, you've felt that pain in your chest that's so profound you firmly believed your heart was breaking — you weren't wrong.


Although people have been suffering from broken heart syndrome for as long as humans have loved and lost, it wasn't until 1990 that it was given a more scientific name by Japanese doctors: takotsubo cardiomyopathy. "Takotsubo is a word for an octopus trapping pot used by Japanese fishers which has a narrow neck and a round wide bottom," assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Deepa B. Iyer, M.D. tells Self. "This pot resembles the shape of the weakened left ventricle of the heart when seen on cardiac echocardiograms or other imaging studies in these patients with broken heart syndrome."

In other words, a broken heart actually takes on a different shape during the syndrome. While broken heart syndrome is rare, cases of it have been on the rise, especially among women middle-aged and older, according to Cedars Sinai. "Although the global COVID-19 pandemic has posed many challenges and stressors for women, our research suggests the increase in Takotsubo diagnoses was rising well before the public health outbreak," director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute, Susan Cheng, M.D. tells Cedars Sinai. 


While broken heart syndrome, despite the increase in cases, is fairly rare and is often temporary, it still can be fatal. Because of this, knowing the symptoms is important.

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome

The symptoms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy aren't much different from the symptoms of a heart attack. Not only is there an intense ache in your chest, but shortness of breath, dizziness, and sweating are also symptoms. These symptoms are the result of hormones and proteins being released into the body because of the emotional stress you're experiencing. Once those components reach the heart, they can actually weaken it. But the difference between broken heart syndrome and a heart attack is that the latter is the result of physical effects on the heart, like blood clots and blocked arteries. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy doesn't involve any sort of blockages in the heart; it's completely emotion-based (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).


"We gave it the nickname 'broken heart syndrome' because at the time no one in medicine believed that emotions could have such a dramatic impact on the human heart," assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine Dr. Ilan Wittstein tells CNN of his research that was published in 2005. "We wanted to raise awareness."

What you can do if you have broken heart syndrome

For starters, if you experience anything out of the ordinary, it's always a good idea to seek medical attention. Even if you haven't suffered an emotional blow, chest pain alone is enough of a reason to see a doctor. However, if you have suffered a loss that has leveled you in every sense of the word and a heart attack has been ruled out, you basically have to wait it out. Recovering from broken heart syndrome can take anywhere from days to weeks (via American Heart Association).


But because it can, in some cases, be fatal, if the symptoms persist and you can't move forward from what has happened, making an appointment to be further evaluated is essential. Your heart is weakened and has taken on a distorted shape from the emotional pain, after all, so it's not as though it's functioning at 100%.

"When a person first comes in, the heart can look terribly weak," assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine Dr. Ilan Wittstein tells CNN. "It may be barely squeezing. In a severe case, you'd be in the intensive care unit in shock, and without medical attention you wouldn't survive."

Although dying from a broken heart may be beautiful in a literary sense, in the real world, it's far more lackluster. While you can embrace how deeply you loved and cared for someone to have suffered broken heart syndrome over them, if the symptoms persist, then you really need to see a doctor.