SEATTLE -- It's not just in your head. A growing body of research shows that the proverbial broken heart is physical and it mimics heart attack symptoms.
"Only after the heart attack has been ruled out are we starting to entertain the diagnosis of this broken heart syndrome," said University of Washington cardiologist Dr. Zachary Goldberger.
Goldberger says he sees about one patient a week who is suffering from takotsubo cardiomyopathy, nicknamed broken heart syndrome.
"Typically we see it in middle-aged women -- 60s and 70s -- who have had some sort of emotional or physical stress. Loss of a loved one, hardship economically," Goldberger explained.
When a person's heart “breaks,” the left ventricle actually weakens, decreasing its ability to pump creating chest pain and shortness of breath, said internal medicine physician Dawn DeWitt of Washington State University.
“Unlike a heart attack, the patient’s arteries aren’t clogged, they’re clear. Another difference is that the left ventricle takes on a distinctive ballooning shape at its apex,” she said.
Also, unlike a heart attack, a broken heart is typically very short-lived.
"We'll see that the patients will have profound electric cardiology change or a profound abnormal wall motion on their ultrasound and days later that's all gone," Goldberger said.
That said, anyone experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath should seek medical care for diagnosis and treatment.
“In many patients, the symptoms of ‘broken-heart’ syndrome go away after a few weeks. But a smaller number can face serious complications, such as heart failure,” DeWitt said.
Scientific interest in cardiomyopathy has increased steadily since it was first described in Japan in 1990.