Broken heart syndrome: on the rise, especially in women 50-74


Treatments and recovery

The condition is rarely fatal, say experts from Harvard and Mayo Clinic, but some can have complications such as heart failure.

There are no standard guidelines for treatment, Dr. Dhoble, of Memorial Hermann, says. “We give medications to keep blood pressures in the optimal range.” Doctors may also prescribe lipid-lowering medicines and blood thinner medications. “Most patients recover within 3 to 7 days.”

“Usually within a month, their [heart] function returns to normal,” Dr. Stevens says.

Getting one’s full energy back can take longer, as Dr. Kamil found. “It was about 6 months before I was up to speed.”

Survivors talk

Looking back, Dr. Kamil realizes now how much stress she was under before her episode.

“I took care of chronically ill kids,” she says, and worried about them. “I’m kind of a mother hen.”

Besides patient care and her cross-county meeting planning, she was flying back and forth to Florida to tend to her mother, who had chronic health problems. She was also managing that year’s annual media prize at a San Diego university that she and her husband established after the death of their adult son several years before.

“I was busy with that, and it is a bittersweet experience,” she says.

She is trying to take her cardiologist’s advice to slow down.

“I used to be notorious for saying, ‘I need to get one more thing done,’” she says.

Joanie Simpson says she, too, has slowed down. She was diagnosed with broken heart in 2016, after a cascade of stressful events. Her son was facing back surgery, her son-in-law had lost his job, and her tiny Yorkshire terrier Meha died. And she and her husband, Benny, had issues with their rental property.

Now 66 and retired in Camp Wood, Texas, she has learned to enjoy life and worry a little less. Music is one way.

“We’re Parrotheads,” she says, referencing the nickname given to fans of singer Jimmy Buffett. “We listen to Buffett and to ’60s, ’70s, ’80s music. We dance around the house. We aren’t big tavern goers, so we dance around the living room and hope we don’t fall over the coffee table. So far, so good.”

They have plans to buy a small pontoon boat and go fishing. Benny especially loves that idea, she says, laughing, as he finds it’s the only time she stops talking.

Reducing the what-ifs

Patients have a common question and worry: What if it happens again?

“I definitely worried more about it in the beginning,” Dr. Kamil says. “Could I have permanent heart damage? Will I be a cardiac cripple?” Her worry has eased.

If you suspect the condition, ‘’get yourself to a provider who knows about it,” she says.

Cardiologists are very likely to suspect the condition, Dr. Bybee says, as are doctors working in a large-volume emergency department.

Dr. Stevens, of St. Luke’s, is straightforward, telling her patients what is known and what is not about the condition. She recommends her patients go to cardiac rehab.

“It gives them that confidence to know what they can do,” she says.

She also gives lifestyle advice, suggesting patients get a home blood pressure cuff and use it. She suggests paying attention to good nutrition and exercise and not lifting anything so heavy that grunting is necessary.

Focus on protecting heart health, Dr. Cheng tells patients. She encourages them to find the stress reduction plan that works for them. Most important, she tells patients to understand that it is not their fault.

A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.


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