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Johns Hopkins Health - Stress Attack

Winter 2009
Issue No. 3

Stress Attack

Date: January 24, 2009

asian woman holding her head

Physical and emotional stress has yet another downside in its cause-effect arsenal: a faux heart attack, also called broken-heart syndrome. Johns Hopkins researchers report that people who undergo severe emotional or physical stress have all the symptoms of a heart attack—except it’s not.

Those stressors might include the loss of a loved one, for example. Or they might include severe migraines, stroke or asthma flare-ups. The good news is that unlike a real heart attack, a broken-heart-syndrome attack doesn’t have any lasting damage—but it can be just as frightening.

What’s happening, says cardiologist and co-author of the report Ilan Wittstein, M.D., is the sudden release of neurohormones into the bloodstream—up to 20 times what is normal.
“Basically, this stuns a person’s heart, making it look horribly injured and weak,” he says. “But within two or three weeks, the heart is back to normal.” That’s unlike an authentic heart attack in which damage to the heart is permanent.

Also encouraging is that people who have one episode of broken-heart syndrome are unlikely to have another. But Wittstein cautions not to take it too lightly. One-third of patients with the syndrome are critically ill when admitted to the hospital and will need follow-up care to make sure their hearts return to normal pumping capacity.

Learn more about heart health at hopkinsmedicine.org/heart. For cardiology appointments and referrals, call 877-546-1872.

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