This article was last updated on December 29, 2016

Can you really be so sad, upset, or angry that you have a broken heart? Believe it or not, there are times when your emotions might cause a serious heart problem called broken heart syndrome. This condition is real, and even though it’s temporary, it requires immediate medical attention.

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What Is Broken Heart Syndrome?

When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones into your bloodstream to help you cope. While broken heart syndrome is a fairly new condition, doctors believe that it happens when your heart is overwhelmed by a burst of hormones after an experience that makes you very sad, angry, scared, or is a big surprise – like the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a car accident.

broken heart

What Are the Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome?

In broken heart syndrome, the heart stops pumping normally, causing it to become weak and making the lower left chamber, the left ventricle, swell.

Symptoms can begin minutes or hours after the stressful experience. The most common symptoms include:

Other symptoms can include fainting, a fast or irregular heartbeat, shock, low blood pressure, and heart failure.

Because the symptoms are so much alike, many people with broken heart syndrome think they’re having a heart attack. If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack or experiencing broken heart syndrome, call 9-1-1 right away.

Who Is at Risk for Broken Heart Syndrome?

People with broken heart syndrome often had no signs of heart problems and were generally healthy before they developed this condition. It is more common in people who are Asian or white. Women older than 55 are more likely to develop it than men.

How Is Broken Heart Syndrome Treated?

The first goal of treatment is to get the heart back to normal function. Your doctor will decide how to make this happen based on your needs. This can include medicines that:

  • Relieve the buildup of fluid that can happen when your heart isn’t working the right way
  • Treat blood pressure or blood clots
  • Manage stress hormones

Most people with broken heart syndrome recover fully and don’t need to take medicines once they are back to normal.

Visit UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute online or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (1-855-876-2484) for more information.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.