(Dr. Lawrence Weinstein)

Are you so emotionally stressed you think you feel physical symptoms?

Broken heart syndrome is an actual medical condition, which can occur after a severe emotional stress. A small percentage of people (slightly more than 2 percent) who think they are suffering a heart attack have broken heart syndrome, according to a Sept. 5, press release from Bethesda Heart Hospital.

Bethesda cardiologist Lawrence M. Weinstein explains that broken heart syndrome is often associated with traumatic events, such as death of a loved one or being a victim of a crime or divorce. But 15 percent of people who have the syndrome aren’t able to attach their physical symptoms to the stress in their lives.

People typically describe the symptoms of broken heart syndrome the way they would a heart attack, with chest pain, sweating and shortness of breath. Even their EKG can suggest a heart attack. The difference is this: the person’s arteries are clean, with no blockages, and that’s usually discovered in the cardiac catheterization lab.

The medical term for broken heart syndrome is takotsubo (tack-o-sue-boh) cardiomyopathy. Takotsubo is a Japanese name for a pot used to trap an octopus.

The syndrome can be quite serious. In people with broken heart syndrome, only the base of the heart moves properly. The rest of the heart moves hardly at all. People suffering the syndrome tend to be sick, initially. Their blood pressures can fall and their lungs might fill up with fluid.

However, things usually improve rather quickly. People who have broken heart syndrome often respond to the same types of medicines used for patients with weak hearts. With the right care, heart function begins to improve within a week and, after six weeks, the heart is typically back to normal.

But the message to anyone experiencing symptoms of a heart attack remains: call 9-1-1 or visit the nearest emergency room as quickly as possible. A complete exam by a physician is the only way to rule out a more serious heart health issue, like a heart attack.

As a refresher, common heart attack symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Shortness of breath. It can be with or without chest pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

Bethesda Heart Hospital is at 2815 South Seacrest Blvd., Boynton Beach, 561/737-7733, http://www.BethesdaHeart.org.