Having a broken heart doesn't feel great. In fact, it feels awful. When your heart is broken, the pain feels like your poor heart is being trampled by a heard of elephants. All you want to do is mope. You feel like your life is over. And the worst part is, your friends tell you it's not a big deal and you should just get over it. Which is always easier said than done.
But now science says a broken heart can do actual physical damage in addition to emotional damage. So if you're so upset that it feels like your heart is literally breaking, you're not wrong. That physical pain isn't all in your head. It's actually happening.
Your broken heart has a clinical name. It's called "broken heart syndrome" or takotsubo cardiomyopathy." The condition is usually brought about by a traumatic life event, like bereavement or a really, really, really bad breakup.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy gets its name from an octopus trap called tako tsubo. These traps look similar to the "pot-shape" of a broken heart. It's an intense sounding name, but then again, it's a pretty intense condition.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy can happen even if you're healthy. According to heart.org, takotsubo cardiomyopathy is when "a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of your heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions." Basically, your heart becomes weak and can't do its job properly. So if you complain about your heart feeling weak during your breakup, you're not being melodramatic.
Symptoms of an actual broken heart include angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and cariogenic shock. When cariogenic shock occurs, the heart doesn't pump enough blood through the body, and it can sometimes be fatal. Yikes! We gotta start taking our exes seriously when they text us with, "I love you so much that not being with you makes me feel like I'm going to die."
Sometimes takotsubo cardiomyopathy gets mistaken for a heart attack because the symptoms are so similar. The heart undergoes dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substance, much like a heart attack. The difference is, someone going through takotsubo cardiomyopathy won't have blocked heart arteries like they would during a heart attack. And they don't have the impulse to write bad poetry about their feelings.
Someone who's nursing a literal broken heart might experience chest pains as a reaction to an increase of stress hormones. They can be triggered by a divorce, a yucky breakup, death of a loved one or even getting rejected. They can also occur after a good shock, like finding out you just won a million bucks.
Women are more likely to experience takostubo cardiomyopathy. According to a study conducted at Harvard Medical School, over 90% of takostubo cardiomyopathy cases occurred in women between the ages of 58 and 75. Apparently, love is blind, but it's not gender blind.
Heart.org says that if you're going through a broken heart, you should expect a full recovery in a few weeks. However, research conducted at the University of Aberdeen says otherwise. Studies suggest that a broken heart might cause permanent damage, much like an actual heart attack.
The study monitored 37 takostubo patients for about two years following the condition. The patients were examined using ultrasound and MRI scans. When the findings were presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, the researchers revealed that the patients' hearts exhibited untreatable damage, including reduced elasticity.
"Takotsubo is a devastating disease that can suddenly strike down otherwise healthy people," said Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study. "We once thought the effects of this life-threatening disease were temporary, but now we can see they can continue to affect people for the rest of their lives." Cool, so we should be scared even if we're totally healthy? Because we definitely needed something new to be scared of!
Pearson also mentioned that because it was believed that a broken heart was a temporary condition, there are no forms of long-term treatment for the condition. However, he did have a few ideas. "This new research shows there are long-term effects on heart health, and suggests we should be treating patients in a similar way to those who are at risk of heart failure," said Pearson. Or you could just glue your heart back together, right?