Individuals in generally good health, with no history of heart disease, can go into heart failureas a result of sudden emotional stress (eg, grief, fear, anger, or shock). The condition calledstress cardiomyopathy, nicknamed broken heart syndrome by physicians, appears to affect primarilywomen. Reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine (February 2005),researchers described events that sent 18 women and 1 man to coronary care units with chestpain and weakening of the heart. The events responsible for the condition included a surpriseparty, a car accident, and a death in the family.
The researchers attributed the onset of the syndrome to a large burst of adrenaline that wasbad for the heart muscle and "stunned"it, leaving it temporarily unable to contract. During thestudy, the researchers measured adrenaline and related stress hormones in 13 patients withthe syndrome and determined the levels to be 2 to 3 times those of individuals having severeheart attacks, and 7 to 34 times normal levels.
While the patients recovered fully and had no lasting damage to the heart muscle, theresearchers stressed the importance of being able to distinguish the syndrome from a heartattack. By doing so, the patients can be treated properly and know their hearts are healthy,rather than being informed that they have coronary disease and need to take medications forthe rest of their lives.