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Women at higher risk than men for actual broken heart

Nov 17, 2011 7:59pm
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(NECN: Marnie Maclean, Portland, ME) - Women can be emotional but so can men. Yet, it appears when faced with powerful emotions, like the loss of a loved one, a divorce or an illness, women are at a much higher risk of an actual broken heart.
                              
It happened to Cyndy Bizon.  Several years ago Cyndy's husband Joel was hospitalized and suffered a massive heart attack. Two days later, Bizon went into full cardiac arrest and collapsed in front of a nurse at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

In a phone interview from their house in Florida, Bizon described the fear and emotional stress she was suffering after her husband's heart attack. After ruling out all other possible causes of her heart problems, her cardiologist determined she had suffered from Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome.

Cardiologist Mary Fahrenbach said it's fairly rare, but when patients are diagnosed with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, they are almost always women and the trigger is stress.

"They have lost all their money, or their spouse died, some outpouring of emotion and adrenaline that creates stunning to heart muscle cells that are in the distribution of those nerves," said Dr. Mary Fahrenbach of the Maine Medical Center.

That stunned heart causes symptoms like chest pain, making the person feel like they are having a heart attack.

The new study shows women are up to nine times more likely to have broken heart syndrome than men.
                         
Dr. Fahrenbach said women may have a more dense distribution of receptors on their heart that react to a sudden surge in adrenaline, but, the reality is, doctors aren't sure why this impacts women.
                        
Brenda Vitali of the American Heart Association said whatever the reason it's a wake-up call to look for support when you are under stress.

"You could have a double tragedy if you are dealing with a stressful situation and something could happen to you,” said Vitali. “It’s important to take care of yourself."

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