'Broken Heart Syndrome' On Rise Among Women

Study finds takotsubo cardiomyopathy cases are increasing, especially in ages 50 to 74
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2021 12:55 PM CDT
Updated Oct 24, 2021 7:00 PM CDT
'Broken Heart Syndrome' On Rise Among Older Women

(Newser) – The technical term is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, but most would probably know the ailment by its informal name—broken heart syndrome. Now, a new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association finds that cases are on the rise, particularly among women ages 50 to 74, reports WebMD. Don't be fooled by the nickname: The syndrome is a very real physical problem—and a serious one—though cases are rarely fatal. Still, patients may end up in the ICU for weeks recovering. The ailment is usually preceded by an extreme shock, stress, or loss, and symptoms include chest pain so severe it feels like a heart attack, fainting, and shortness of breath.

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The peer-reviewed study shows that while the ailment isn't common, neither is it as rare as once thought. Researchers found 135,463 US cases from 2006 to 2017, and 88.3% of them involved women 50 or older, per USA Today. In fact, cases were rising most quickly (up at least six-fold) in the 50-to-74 age group of women. Lead researcher Dr. Susan Cheng of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center says the trigger can be something as innocuous as a surprise party or anything from a car accident to a romantic breakup. The formal name speaks to the telltale clue of diagnosis: The heart's left ventricle changes shape and resembles an octopus pot used by Japanese fishermen called a takotsubo.

“Men and women have different biology and susceptibility to diseases,” says Cheng. “Those differences get exaggerated over time, and in this study, it seems to be applicable here also.” Greater awareness is playing role in the increased diagnoses, but Cheng says still-unidentified environmental factors are probably a factor, too. Future research will try to pinpoint who might be most vulnerable. "There probably is some underlying genetic predisposition," she says. (Read more women's health stories.)

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