Health Beat

Health Beat: Broken heart syndrome

Health Beat: Broken heart syndrome

ORLANDO, Fla. - Lesley Bartlett met the love of her life in the most unlikely of places. Peter was dressed like a clown, teaching a trampoline class, but for Lesley, it was perfect.

"I think if you're looking for a partner, if anybody's looking for a partner that is the most important thing that he could make you laugh," she expressed.

Marriage. Children. Graduations. Lesley and Peter built a lifetime of memories through the good and the bad. 

Peter was diagnosed with lymphoma in his late 50s. Lesley was his caregiver for more than a decade until he died.

"Sometimes, I think I'd have a hole in my heart that's never going to get better," Lesley said.

Lesley kept busy and bottled up her grief.

"One afternoon, I really didn't feel well," Lesley recalled. "I came home from work and thought I really ought to see the doctor. I felt sick."

Dr. Rajesh Shah, an interventional cardiologist at the Florida Hospital in Orlando, said intense emotion can lead to a condition that doctors commonly call broken heart syndrome.

"It is a pattern that we see where the base of the heart sort of squeezes."It's hyper-dynamic, but the rest of the heart looks like a balloon," Shah said.

Broken heart syndrome is more common in women than men, but it can happen in both. Patients are at risk for heart failure, fluid build-up and heart arrhythmia. It's not always easy for doctors to detect.

"Asking questions up front in terms of what were you doing when the symptoms occurred, what was the scenario, how did you feel?  Has anything changed in your life?" Shah recommended.

Patients can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. For most, their hearts go back to normal within weeks.

"It could take up to three months to get better, and to be patient. He was sure it would get better, and he was right," Lesley said.

Broken heart syndrome is also called stress-mediated cardiomyopathy, apical balloon syndrome or takotsubo syndrome, because the heart takes on the shape of a Japanese vase.


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