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Women's Health

'Broken Heart' Syndrome More Common in Women

Broken heart syndrome - a temporary heart condition brought on by extreme physical or emotional stress - is far more likely to occur in women than in men.

Photo of older woman looking sad

Researchers don't really know what causes broken heart syndrome, but it's often discovered after a traumatic emotional event, such as the sudden death of a loved one, a frightening medical diagnosis, or a car accident.

Also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome causes part of the heart to enlarge, while the rest of the organ functions normally or with more forceful contractions. Symptoms of broken heart syndrome are similar to a heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and general weakness. Most cases can be treated, with symptoms easing within a week.

Wide gap between genders

After analyzing records from a nationwide database in 2007, researchers at the University of Arkansas found that of 6,230 cases of broken heart syndrome, more than 89 percent were in women. About a third of patients were ages 50 to 65, and 58 percent were older than 65. In those ages 55 and older, investigators found that the odds of developing broken heart syndrome were 9.5 times higher in women than in men.

"We know women get all forms of heart disease differently than men do," says Stacey Rosen, M.D., at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "Whether this is an external effect on the heart muscle, or a difference in the way blood vessels behave is yet to be understood."

Hormonal differences

But why does broken heart syndrome affect so many more women than men? Dr. Rosen says that hormonal differences between the sexes and variations in coronary arteries may be factors.

And, says Suzanne Steinbaum, D.O., spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, "I don't think we should underestimate the effects of the mind on the heart. Constant stress, which is so prevalent right now in our world, sort of gives us a window into the possibilities . . . of what our emotional state can have on our heart."

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Association of Critical Care Nurses - The ‘Broken Heart Syndrome'

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, or Broken-Heart Syndrome

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - How Does Heart Disease Affect Women?

January 2012

Heart Attacks and Women

For many women, a heart attack may not hit with crushing chest pain. Instead, a woman may notice a strange discomfort in the back or another easily ignored sign. Heart disease in women often doesn't occur from obvious blockages in arteries as it does in men.

Instead, for women, plaque spreads evenly along the artery wall or in the smaller arteries - areas that are hidden on an angiogram, the standard imaging test that measures blood flow in the big arteries.

In women with heart disease, blood flow to the heart can become dangerously low. But they may have only subtle symptoms, like pressure, or squeezing, or shortness of breath. Symptoms may even pop up elsewhere in the body, such as the jaw.

Seek immediate medical care if you have ANY of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain, pressure, tightening, or squeezing

  • Unexplained pain in your jaw, shoulder, back, or arms

  • Shortness of breath, particularly at rest

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.