In a new study from Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, researchers found broken heart syndrome, a life-threatening condition whose symptoms mimic a heart attack, is on the upswing.
They found that the sharpest increases among women 50 and older.
In the study, the team examined 135,463 cases of broken heart syndrome in U.S. hospitals from 2006 to 2017. It found a steady annual increase among both women and men, with women making up 88.3% of the cases.
The rate of the condition was at least six to 12 times higher in women ages 50 to 74 than it was in men or in younger women.
The condition, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, has been studied for decades in Japan and elsewhere.
Triggered by physical or emotional stress, broken heart syndrome causes the heart’s main pumping chamber to temporarily enlarge and pump poorly.
Patients experience chest pain and shortness of breath, symptoms similar to those of a heart attack. If they survive the initial phase of the disease, people often can recover in days or weeks.
Despite apparent recovery of heart muscle function, some studies show people who have had broken heart syndrome are at heightened risk for future cardiovascular events.
The team says more research is needed to understand the risks and reasons why broken heart syndrome seems to disproportionately affect middle-aged to older women.
The end of menopause may play a role, she said, but so might an uptick in overall stress.
The study arrives at a time when public health organizations have been delving deeper into the mind-heart-body connection.
While the study was done before the rise of COVID-19, the stress of the pandemic has likely led to a rise in the number of recent cases of broken heart syndrome, many of them undiagnosed.
The findings underscore how important it is for doctors to screen patients for mental health conditions.
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The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. One author of the study is Dr. Susan Cheng.
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