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Can sadness cause a heart attack?

Everyone knows diet, exercise, cholesterol levels and blood pressure are crucial to heart health, but there are other risk factors to consider, including depression. If someone is depressed, his or her risk of having a heart attack is actually doubled. It's impossible to talk about your risk factors without discussing the medical, social, emotional and psychological factors that are affecting your life.

Emerging research is supporting the notion that sadness can indeed cause heart problems. Essentially, heartbreak really can break your heart.

When someone is under severe emotional trauma or other stressors (including physical trauma to other parts of the body) that person may suffer takotsubo syndrome, or “broken heart syndrome.” The syndrome has been noted in patients who experience stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one, and in patients who experience stressful situations, such as frustration and anxiety related to accomplishing a difficult task or the shock of a surprise party. 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.

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.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.