What has changed since your first heartbreak

Broken Heart Syndrome: Heartache caused by lovesickness

Lovesickness can also beat the heart. Broken heart syndrome causes symptoms similar to those of a heart attack - but is less dangerous.

“It broke her heart” - that's what they say. But very few people know that Broken Heart Syndrome actually exists. Cardiologists have been studying broken heart syndrome since the early 1990s. Stress cardiomyopathy, as the jargon goes, can occur in the event of severe losses, separations and psychological stress, reports Jürgen Pache, chief physician of cardiology at the Schön Klinik Starnberger See.

Broken heart syndrome: symptoms similar to those of a heart attack

The disease is associated with symptoms similar to those of a heart attack: the heart contracts, the chest hurts. The cause, however, is not a blocked artery, but a stress-related narrowing of the coronary arteries and thus a dysfunction of the heart muscle.

"Broken heart syndrome is a heart muscle disease that is triggered by a high level of stress hormones," explains Felix Schröder from the Heart and Vascular Center at the Albertinen Hospital in Hamburg, who has just written a book about the heart.

The cause of stress cardiomyopathy cannot always be determined

In other words, if someone gets very upset, their heart may stop working properly. "Affected are people who suddenly find themselves in existential need, for example because their entire livelihood has suddenly been deprived," says Pache. However, the syndrome can also occur after physical exertion or in connection with very severe physical pain, which in turn causes psychological stress. In a third of the cases, no cause can be determined.

Doctors from Japan were the first to describe the phenomenon

At first, broken heart syndrome was mainly found in older women who had lost their husbands. Physicians in Japan, who were the first to describe the phenomenon, named it Takotsubo because the shape of the left ventricle is reminiscent of squid traps of the same name.

Stress has a strong impact on the cardiovascular system

Mental stress such as separation or bullying can also drive blood pressure up. "These are extreme psychological stresses that have tremendous effects on the cardiovascular system," says Pache. Doctors suspect that the body releases an extremely high amount of adrenaline and noradrenaline as a result of the stress. These stress hormones in turn trigger a release of calcium. If the calcium gets into the cells, the heart muscle spasms - according to the theory.

"Affected people may also have additional binding sites for adrenaline and noradrenaline," says Jana Boer from the Federal Association of Resident Cardiologists (BNK). That would mean they are more responsive to the hormones than others.

Lovesickness and heartache are closely related

People with lovesickness often report pain in the heart area, even if they usually get by without medical help. Tension, abdominal pain, insomnia, inner restlessness, reduced performance and a weakened immune system - lovesickness can have a huge impact on the body, as Iris Hauth, President of the German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Neurology, explains.

Lovesickness has hardly been studied so far

Experiments in the US have shown that emotional pain and social rejection activate regions in the brain similar to physical pain, says Hauth. "There are a few studies that show the mental processing of lovesickness with functional magnetic resonance imaging," says the medical director at the Center for Psychiatry at the Alexian St. Joseph Hospital in Berlin. Although almost everyone suffers separation, pain and unfulfilled love in the course of their lives: "Lovesickness itself has been relatively poorly researched scientifically."

Consult a therapist or psychiatrist

Whatever it is, it is important that patients who have already suffered broken heart syndrome take care of themselves. "The syndrome is much more dangerous than we previously thought," says Borggrefe. It is true that people with broken heart syndrome are much less likely to die during the event than heart attack patients. Long-term observations show, however, that it happens again and again for many of those affected.

Long-term effects are difficult to demonstrate. "We therefore recommend a combined therapy of beta blockers and psychotherapy," says Boer. The drugs block the receptors on the heart. In therapy, patients should also learn to deal better with stress. "Endurance sports are also advisable," says Borggrefe. It not only strengthens the heart, but also helps to deal better with stress. In “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe impressively described the fact that disappointed love sometimes ends suicidal.

Risk increases on Christmas and Valentine's Day

Hardly verifiable, but often observed: According to experts, especially on Valentine's Day - like at Christmas - there is often gossip and relationship crises. "On days when there are high expectations in terms of empathy and interaction, it is of course easier to make a difference - especially if the relationship was problematic before," says Hauth.

Valentine's Day quarrel usually unexpected

Sandra Neumayr, Vice President of the Professional Association of Psychological Consultants, has been looking after Valentine's Day victims on the hotline since 2012. It hurts "to see other people in love and to be unhappy myself". In existing relationships, on the other hand, conflicts weigh more heavily than usual. "On the day of love, one imagines something different than coldness, arguments, reproaches and insults."
Felix Schröder, Nina Weber: What the heart desires: How we keep our most important organ happy, Edel Germany, 240 pages, 16.95 euros, ISBN-13: 9783841905451

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    This is how love is preserved

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| Updated October 24, 2017

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