Broken heart syndrome is a real health condition in which patients experience symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, and irregular heart beat as a result of a romantic loss or other emotional stress. And a new study presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting suggests that women may be much more susceptible than men. Here's what the researchers discovered:
How much more likely are women to suffer broken hearts?
The researchers looked at 6,229 cases of patients with the syndrome who were discharged from hospitals nationwide, and found that women were eight times as likely as men to be diagnosed with the condition. Of the reported patients, 5,558 were women and 671 were men. Also, women over age 55 were three times more susceptible than younger women, although this might simply be because doctors are more likely to send older patients with chest pains to hospitals as a precautionary measure.
Are there any lasting side effects?
Not typically. The condition is triggered by a "rush of adrenaline" and other stress hormones that cause the heart muscle to "balloon suddenly and not work right," says the Associated Press. Patients usually recover with no lasting damage after a month or two. In one classic case from 2005, a Maine woman collapsed of broken heart syndrome as her husband was wheeled into the operating room for a heart attack. They both survived, but not before she wound up in coronary care alongside him.
Why are women more susceptible?
It's unclear at this point, but one theory is that certain hormones may play a factor. Another suggests that men "simply get less emotional," says Rupert Shepherd at Medical News Today. Men are hardwired with more adrenaline receptors in their hearts' cells and may be better equipped chemically to handle the sudden flood of adrenaline associated with shock.