Broken heart syndrome (Takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is a condition which predominantly affects women and can affect healthy individuals of any age without any risk factors. The symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack and may include chest pain and shortness of breath. Healthy individuals can be affected as can those with risk factors for coronary artery disease.

“Broken heart syndrome is associated with extreme stress such as that associated with job termination, divorce, breakup of a relationship, extreme financial duress, etc.,” said Dr. Lenley Jackson, emergency care physician and founder of Harvesting Wellness, a local company which specializes in holistic wellness through products, tips and workshops. “It is thought that the surge of hormones associated with the stress causes the heart to develop abnormalities in the left lower chamber.”

Distinguishing between a real heart attack and broken heart syndrome can be difficult as both conditions may manifest with chest pain and shortness of breath. Typically, broken heart syndrome will occur after extreme stress. Medical personnel will be able to distinguish between the two conditions through ordering tests.

An EKG won’t show the changes usually seen during a heart attack (though it may show some irregularity) and lab work won’t demonstrate any heart muscle damage. If your doctor orders a coronary angiogram, the typical vessel changes seen in coronary artery disease, which lead to and cause a heart attack, won’t be present. Your doctor may order an echocardiogram that may show the abnormal enlargement of the left lower side of the heart, common of this condition.

Broken heart syndrome rarely leads to death but can lead to cardiogenic shock, a condition in which the heart is not pumping enough blood to meet your body’s needs. This condition can be lethal if not managed properly. The good news is that recovery is usually complete after a week as compared to months of recovery after a heart attack.

“Any time you are experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, you should call 911 to be evaluated and managed in the emergency room,” Dr. Jackson said.

In observation of February being Heart Health Month, Dr. Jackson and Attention Plus Care will host “Strengthening the Heart,” a free seminar on Tuesday, February 16, from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Moiliili Community Center, RM 104 (2535 S. King St.). To learn more and register, call 440-9372 or visit

Dr. Jackson explains Broken Heart Syndrome