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A person with broken heart syndrome usually has had recent emotional or physical stress, such as the death of a loved one or an asthma attack. This stress results in symptoms that are similar to a heart attack, such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
Heart attack or broken heart?

It is difficult to tell the difference between broken heart syndrome and a heart attack since both can have changes in electrocardiograms and blood tests.

Physicians rely on other tests that allow them to look for left ventricle abnormalities that indicate broken heart syndrome. The syndrome causes the left ventricle to narrow and develop a rounded bottom.

In addition, patients with broken heart syndrome typically lack the coronary artery blockages associated with heart attacks.

Are Women at Higher Risk?

While the syndrome does occur in both sexes, a recent literature review found that 90% of broken heart cases occur in postmenopausal women. The condition typically occurs in women who are 60 or older. The reasons why the condition occurs more in women is still uncertain. However, researchers think sex hormones may play a role.

Broken heart syndrome is a temporary and reversible condition. The left ventricle will revert to its normal shape in days or weeks. It’s also uncommon for it to happen again.

Coping with Stress

We will all experience stress in our lives. Mental Health America offers the following suggestions to cope:

  • Complete one task before moving on to the next one.
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish.
  • Know that you will make mistakes and that it is okay.
  • Use your imagination to visualize yourself managing stressful situations.
  • Meditate for five to ten minutes a day.
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day.
  • Participate in hobbies.
  • Get enough sleep, eat a healthful diet, and exercise.
  • Talk to family and friends.


The American Institute of Stress

Mental Health America


Canadian Mental Health Association

Canadian Psychiatric Association


Broken heart syndrome: real, potentially deadly but recovery quick. Johns Hopkins website. Available at: Published February 9, 2005. Accessed February 20, 2014.

Coping with stress checklist. Mental Health America website. Available at: Accessed February 20, 2014.

Derrick D. The "Broken Heart Syndrome": Understanding takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Critical Care Nurse. February 2009;29(1):49-57.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. British Heart Foundation website. Available at: Accessed February 20, 2014.

Zeb M, Sambu N, et al. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy: a diagnostic challenge. Postgrad Med J. 2011 Jan;87(1023):51-59.

Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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