Researchers have found that women are about seven to nine times more likely to suffer from “broken heart syndrome” during sudden or prolonged stress.
The syndrome is caused during a stressful event like an emotional breakup or death, which then causes overwhelming heart failure or heart attack-like symptoms.
Japanese doctors first recognized the syndrome around 1990 and named it Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Tests show dramatic changes in rhythm and blood substances typical of a heart attack, but no artery blockages. Most victims can recover within weeks, but in some cases it is fatal.
“I was very curious why only women were having this,” Dr. Abhishek Deshmukh of the University of Arkansas, who has treated some of these cases said at an American Heart Association conference in Florida.
He used 6,229 cases in 2007 from a federal database with about 1,000 hospitals. Only 671 of the cases involved men.
Deshmukh took into account factors like high blood pressure and smoking, but women still seemed 7.5 times more likely to suffer the syndrome than men.
It was three times more common for a woman over 55 to suffer from broken heart syndrome than a younger woman. Women younger than 55 were 9.5 times more likely to suffer it than men of that age.
“It’s the only cardiac condition where there’s such a female preponderance,” Dr. Abhiram Prasad, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist who presented other research on this syndrome at the conference, said.
He said that one theory is that hormones play a role, while another is that men have more adrenaline receptors on cells in their hearts than women do.
The new study has found that about 1 percent of broken heart syndrome cases prove to be fatal.
About 10 percent of victims will have a second episode sometime in their lives, and the condition is more common in the summer.
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