When someone experiences severe emotional trauma or other stressors (including physical trauma to other parts of the body) that person may develop takotsubo syndrome, or “broken heart syndrome.” This syndrome can happen to men or women, but so far research suggests that over 80 percent of people with broken heart syndrome are women who are primarily postmenopausal. Broken heart syndrome has many of the same symptoms as a traditional heart attack caused by a blocked artery.
Takotsubo is a name given to the syndrome by Japanese medical professionals who noticed that some patients who presented at emergency rooms with the symptoms of a heart attack did not have blocked arteries. Instead, these patients all had an abnormal and distinctive shape to one of the chambers of their heart, the left ventricle. This chamber was shaped like a takotsubo pot used to trap octopuses.
The exact mechanism that causes the left ventricle to stop functioning correctly is not known, but one theory points to hormones produced by the adrenal glands.
Broken heart syndrome in very rare cases can be fatal. More often, patients’ hearts experience little to no permanent damage after recovery.