Think that a "broken heart" is just a metaphor? Researchers at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., have found that unexpected emotional stress -- such as being dumped by a boyfriend -- can leave you with symptoms that actually mimic a heart attack.
Called "broken heart syndrome," it occurs when, faced with major sudden stress, the body produces massive amounts of adrenaline that temporarily stun the heart. This shock affects the heart's ability to pump effectively and can leave you with shortness of breath, low blood pressure, fluid in the lungs and chest pains -- all symptoms of a heart attack, says Dr. Ilan Wittstein, lead researcher for a study on the syndrome that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine. "We all need and produce adrenaline, but in large doses it can be very hard on the heart muscle," says Wittstein.
But while people who have had a real heart attack suffer permanent damage to their heart, people with broken heart syndrome recover, says Wittstein.
For the study, Wittstein and his colleagues observed 19 patients who had entered Johns Hopkins Hospital or Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with heart attack symptoms, who were subsequently found not to be experiencing a heart attack. While all were "totally heart healthy," he says what all 19 patients had in common was a sudden and unexpected emotional shock prior to developing symptoms.