Women are seven to nine times more likely to suffer a heart attack from shock or distress.
Women are up to nine times more likely to suffer ‘broken heart syndrome,’ a study revealed today.
The condition – when sudden or prolonged stress caused by an event such as an emotional breakup or death causes overwhelming heart failure or heart attack-like symptoms – is far more likely to strike women than it is men.
Although the symptoms can be life-threatening, patients usually recover with no lasting damage.
The study, which was carried out by Dr. Abhishek Deshmukh of the University of Arkansas, was reported at the American Heart Association in Florida.
The syndrome was first identified in 1990, when Japanese doctors named it Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (tako tsubo are octopus traps that resemble the unusual pot-like shape of the stricken heart).
It happens when a big shock, even one with positive results, like winning the lottery, triggers a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that cause the heart’s main pumping chamber to suddenly balloon and malfunction.
Tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances typical of a heart attack, but no artery blockages that typically cause one. Most victims recover within weeks, but in rare cases it proves fatal.
Dr. Mariell Jessup, a University of Pennsylvania heart failure specialist who has treated many such cases, reports that the classic case is a woman who has just lost her husband.
One woman, Cyndy Bizon, 63, from Maine, U.S., became a victim of the condition six years ago after her husband Joel, suffered a massive heart attack.
Convinced her husband was going to die, she said her prayers as he was wheeled past her into the operating room.
She later collapsed at a nurse’s station and was transferred to an emergency coronary care ward, diagnosed with so-called broken heart syndrome.
‘I remember grabbing the counter and a black curtain coming down before my eyes,’ she said.
Cyndy’s attack was so severe that she went into full cardiac arrest and had to have her heart shocked back into a normal rhythm.
Both Cyndy and her husband survived, but while most such attacks resolve without permanent damage, Cyndy later needed to have a defibrillator implanted.
Dr. Abhishek Deshmukh carried out his study after noticing that the majority of patients he treated for the condition were female.
Using a federal database with about 1,000 hospitals, Deshmukh found 6,229 cases in 2007.
Only 671 involved men. After adjusting for high blood pressure, smoking and other factors that can affect heart problems, women seemed 7.5 times more likely to suffer the syndrome than men.
It was three times more common in women over 55 than in younger women. And women younger than 55 were 9.5 times more likely to suffer it than men of that age.
No one knows why, said Dr. Abhiram Prasad, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who presented other research on this syndrome at the conference.
‘It’s the only cardiac condition where there’s such a female preponderance,’ he said.
One theory is that hormones play a role. Another is that men have more adrenaline receptors on cells in their hearts than women do.
Dr Deshmukh suggests this may mean that men are better able to handle stress and the chemical surge it releases.
About 1 per cent of such cases prove fatal, the study shows.
‘In the old days, we’d say someone was scared to death,’ said Prasad.
About 10 per cent of victims will have a second episode sometime in their lives. And although heart attacks happen more in winter, broken heart syndrome is more common in summer.
Via Daily Mail