Monday, February 24, 2014

Broken Heart Syndrome

In today's Medical Monday blog, I'll be discussing the Takotsubo Syndrome.  Also known as the Broken Heart Syndrome, this disease shows that dying from a broken heart (or a "curse" or severe fright) isn't just a folkloric motif to enhance a good ghost story...its real!

It's been ten days, but I hope everyone had a wonderful Valentine's Day just the same!  While many paranormal blogs written on that day brought you touching tales of love from beyond the grave or some of the crazy cool and often morbid origins of the holiday, I wanted to do something a TAD different to celebrate.  One of my interests in the paranormal field is researching strange and bizarre medical conditions that can be mistaken for having supernatural origins.  So, to combine the holiday with that theme, I give you...

Takotsubo Syndrome

Takotsubo Syndrome goes by many names, but is often referred to as the Broken Heart Syndrome.  Paranormal folklore is filled with tales of (mostly) young women dying of a broken heart, either from a love interest who failed to come back to her because of death or another woman, or one whom she was forbidden to be with, thanks to an unreasonable father who felt the young man in question was not good enough for his daughter.  The daughter then comes back to haunt the homestead or place of death, waiting for her loved one to claim her.

When historical records are accessed, however, most of the time the cause of death for the young woman is listed as something completely different, leading many to believe that the idea of dying of a broken heart is just a romanticized notion...a perfect ingredient for a ghost tale.

But, in a rare instance, science has lent a helping hand to folklore, and it can be shown that dying from a broken heart is a very real possibility. Since the onset of the syndrome isn't limited to a broken heart, the label of stress-induced cardiomy is often used as well.

Whatever you choose to call it, this is a REAL phenomenon that covers a variety of scenarios.  The grief from losing a loved one, a severe fright, or even the prolonged anxiety associated with believing one has had a "curse" placed upon them can lead to Takotsubo Syndrome, which leaves some pretty recognizable biological earmarks.  This handy infographic from the New Englad Journal of Medicine does a nice job summing up what happens to you.

Luckily, the affects from the Broken Heart Syndrome don't always have to be fatal, and in fact, with modern medicine, only about 20% of cases result in death, with the majority clearing up completely in less than 2 months.  According to Harvard Medical School, the syndrome causes a weakening of the left ventricle, brought about my a shock of stress hormones (ie, adrenaline) "stunning" the heart and preventing it from contracting correctly.  Symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pains, just like a heart attack, but show up on EKGs as a ballooning in the lower part of the left ventricle.  In fact, its that ballooning affect that gives the disorder its Takotsubo name--- the ballooning ventricle looks just like a tako-tsubo, a pot used by Japanese fisherman to trap octopuses.  It is believed that 90% of all cases of this disorder affect women.

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