Broken hearts are not just a cheap cliché used to write pop songs, there is actually some science behind this much-romanticized phenomenon. And it's not limited to humans either. Doctors in Texas have written a case report about a 61-year-old woman who suffered from “broken-heart syndrome” following the death of her dog. Ahem, is someone cutting onions in here?
As explained in The New England Journal of Medicine, the grief-stricken woman was rushed to the emergency room after a sudden onset of chest pain and high blood pressure. At first, it looked like she might be having a heart attack. However, a coronary angiography X-ray revealed that her coronary arteries were in good shape. The doctors then followed up with an echocardiography, which revealed the typical signs of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, better known as broken-heart syndrome.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy occurs when your heart muscle becomes suddenly weakened. The word “Takotsubo” means “octopus trap” in Japanese, as the left ventricle of the heart changes into the shape of a bulging pot with a narrow neck, much like the pots traditionally used to capture octopus.
In the vast majority of cases, it’s usually triggered by emotional stress. The precise cause of this strange condition is not yet known but it’s believed to be associated with a surge of hormones, such as adrenaline, stunning the heart muscle and causing changes to the heart muscle cells or coronary blood vessels.
As the doctors note in the case report, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy “typically occurs in postmenopausal women and may be preceded by a stressful or emotional event.” This woman reported multiple stresses running up to her trip to the hospital, but what tipped her over the edge was the death of her much-loved Yorkshire terrier.
“I was close to inconsolable,” she told The Washington Post. “I really took it really, really hard.”
What becomes of the broken hearted? Well, most people manage to make a fairly rapid recovery. In this woman’s case, she was treated with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors to help relax blood vessels and beta-blockers to ease her emotional stress. At a check-up appointment one year after her condition came to light, she appeared to have made a full recovery.
“It is heartbreaking. It is traumatic. It is all of the above,” she said, describing the loss of her faithful friend. “But you know what? [Dogs] give so much love and companionship that I’ll do it again. I will continue to have pets. That’s not going to stop me.”