Broken Heart Syndrome

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

The Difference Between a Heart Attack and a Broken Heart

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

Doctors 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, those with broken heart syndrome typically lack the coronary artery blockages associated with heart attacks.

Women at Higher Risk

While the syndrome does occur in both genders, a recent literature review found that 90% of broken heart cases occur in postmenopausal women. The condition typically occurs in women who are aged 60 years and 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 and function in days or weeks. It’s also uncommon for it to happen again.

Coping with Stress

We will all experience stress in our lives. Learning how to cope with stress, especially when it's unexpected may help you avoid problems. 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 5-10 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. If you are having a hard time coping, feel overwhelmed, or experience symptoms of depression for at least 2 weeks, talk to your doctor.


The American Institute of Stress
Mental Health America


Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association


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Coping with stress checklist. Mental Health America website. Available at:
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Accessed November 14, 2017.
Derrick D. The "Broken Heart Syndrome": Understanding takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Crit Care Nurse. 2009;29(1):49-57.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. British Heart Foundation website. Available at: Accessed December 9, 2015.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated September 1, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017.
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Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 12/9/2015

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