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'Broken Heart Syndrome' can mimic heart attack

June 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Doctors now know that the heart can actually break. Stress caused from loss of a spouse or any other emotional trigger can cause the heart to physically change shape. It's called "Broken Heart Syndrome" and it can mimic a heart attack.The Paliuses of Studio City are a happy couple. So it may surprise you that 77-year-old Elizabeth Palius nearly died of a broken heart. It sure surprised her.

"Now you know, I never heard of it before, never heard of Broken Heart Syndrome," said Elizabeth.

Broken Heart Syndrome can cause symptoms similar to a heart attack. It usually occurs after a person experiences intense emotion.

The exact cause is not known but cardiologists believe that stress can trigger physiological events that could lead to the syndrome. Stress from economic factors, a broken romance, or personal tragedy.

"The predominance of patients are women, usually in their 60s and 70s," said Dr. David Sato, cardiologist, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.

For Elizabeth, the trigger was a continual struggle to breathe. She has chronic lung problems and had a flare-up at the grocery store.

She felt deep distress. The next thing Elizabeth knew, paramedics were rushing her to the emergency room.

"And all those people were in there and they're crowding around you and that's when I got scared," said Elizabeth.

Doctors at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center quickly realized what it was.

The Japanese call it Tako-Tsubo Syndrome, because when the heart contracts it takes on the shape of a "tako-tsubo," or octopus trap.

Doctors treat with blood thinners and medications to decrease strain on the heart. Patients often recover quickly without any lasting damage.

While Dr. Sato says no one can prepare for all of life's uncertainties, anyone suffering from chest pain and labored breathing should call 911 right away.

Now that she knows what stress can do to the heart, Elizabeth has a more relaxed attitude toward life.

"It doesn't matter if it's 10 minutes late. It doesn't matter if it's tomorrow instead of today. The world isn't going to crack up," said Elizabeth.

Advice that -- who knows? -- could prevent heartbreak.


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