Broken Heart {Attack}

BROKEN HEART {ATTACK}

By:  Christine Velez-Botthof

A dear friend of mine just suffered what her doctor called a “broken heart-heart attack” brought on by a sudden collapse of the spirit. Or in layman’s terms – stress.

A broken heart-heart attack in fact, does exist. It’s labeled BHS for Broken Heart Syndrome or more technically; stress cardiomyopathy. 90-95 percent of patients with BHS are middle aged or postmenopausal women who have suffered what they believe to be a heart attack following an episode of extreme emotional stress. The condition is recognized by severe, acute cardiac symptoms like chest pressure/pain, shortness of breath and a general sense of impending doom.

It surprised me to learn that upon immediate evaluation, patients with BHS are initially thought to be having massive heart attacks. However, the changes on the EKGs are not typical for a heart attack, nor are the cardiac enzyme tests to confirm a heart attack. Most of these patients, not excluding my friend, do not have the blockage of coronary arteries that is seen in most heart failure. On the contrary, their arteries are pumping along just fine.

Having said that – most patients with BHS are – without question – in severe heart failure and require aggressive cardiac care due to a “ballooning” of the left ventricle apex. The Japanese have labeled this type of heart condition as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy – which means Octopus trap – for the large balloon-like appearance on the left side of the heart.

Suffice to say, there are days when I myself feel like my heart is going to explode. Perhaps my left ventricle apex – at those moments – is in fact ballooning out and waiting to burst. It saddens me to think that may actually happen one day, but I also find great relief in knowing the cliché I have been using for years is actually a scientifically accurate one.

People with BHS can and do become critically ill for a period of time following an emotional meltdown. Critically – as in – might die. It’s a fact not just a metaphor. All of my adult life I have viewed the term “died of a broken heart” as a very poignant and poetic way to label someone’s heart failure, never really considering the profoundness of the why or how. But now, after seeing someone close to me endure BHS and knowing exactly why she went through it (a nasty argument with a loved one), the only thing I can surmise is how very, very fragile our mortality is.

It’s hard to say why women suffer from this condition more than men. I do believe men are under tons of stress. Everyday type stresses that a lot of women don’t face. I think men put burdens on themselves that women just don’t. For most men (operative word here is most, not all), being a provider, protector, hunter and harbor are of the utmost importance. However, a slight misstep or colossal failure to do any or all of the above does not usually result in a ballooning emotional turmoil of a mess.

I, on the other hand (and ok, lots and lots of women I know), find myself at the very end of my own rapidly fraying rope – on a daily basis. Trudging through the minutiae of my everyday life provides me with lists and lists of things to do, piles of chores, dozens of errands, sporting activities for the kids, friends for them, friends for him, volunteering for me and goals goals goals.

In the midst of it all, my need to nurture, soothe, cleanse and sanctify reigns supreme. My want to take care of people (self included) is priority one – and yet that very goal – that one very important thing I strive for every single day – may one day kill me.  As in the case of my girlfriend, I may one day say something in an effort to “help” someone and end up with an exploded heart because of a misstep in speech and unwelcome guidance. Someone may one day say something so hurtful to me, I might actually become critically ill from it. At least this is what almost happened to her.

So do we as women – love too much? Too hard? Too recklessly? Does putting our spirit into everything we do, and everyone we cherish, actually, in the end, harm us?

368,000,000 hits on Google later, all fingers point to YES. Every psychotherapist on earth has an opinion on the topic and self-help books abound, outlining everything from where to go to get your inner-sanctum on, how to have a “wrinkle-free” Wednesday and when to drown your love in chocolate. Amazing. And it’s all aimed at women. The long-suffering love mongers we are.

There are a variety of causes for BHS, like the death of a loved one, a bad break-up and even fear of public speaking. (Note: Staring down the barrel of a loaded .44 is surprisingly not on the list). A surge in adrenaline mixed with the trouble-making estrogen hormone, add some epinephrine and you have yourself a nasty cocktail of cardiac poison that can not only shatter your dreams but may also lead to congestive heart failure.

The good news is, once a person suffers from BHS it usually doesn’t happen again. It’s as if we only have one good heart break in us. And the symptoms can be completely reversed…never to surface again. So you can patch up your achy breaky heart and actually move on.

While BHS is not preventable there are some things you can do to avoid it all together. According to Dr. Ian Smith in his book “Happy” – yoga is a great way to calm your core. Any kind of exercise at all rates as beneficial. The release of endorphins can bring on a whole bunch of happy and that alone can help keep your heart strong enough to leap over life’s hurdles. Surrounding yourself with positivity as opposed to people and things that drain you, is another very good idea.

Taking things to heart…not so much.

For me, I plan to continue “living out loud” in the words of the insightful Holly Hunter. Loving much, laughing often and hopefully living longer. It’s risky business, but I’m all in, heart wide open.

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3 Responses to “Broken Heart {Attack}”

  1. Eulah says:
    December 6, 20115:49 pm

    Excellent info! I have already been looking for something similar to this for a while now. Cheers!

  2. Morgan Lauenroth says:
    December 22, 201112:42 am

    Enjoyed looking through this, very good stuff, thanks . “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” by John Andrew Holmes.

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