In the case of the patient discussed earlier, her close friend had recently died and she was struggling to break away from an abusive husband.
Nagelhout remembers his first case 20 years ago. He admits that he didn’t know what it was. The woman showed all of the typical heart attack symptoms yet all of the tests indicated that the arteries were normal. He then found out the woman had recently suffered a very stressful situation. Her son had just been handcuffed and arrested as she stood by and this was the ‘fallout’. Nagelhout says that he has seen the condition a dozen or so times since then.
Addie Graham-Kramer, regional vice president of the American Heart Association explains that we now know that if there are no excruciating or back pains then the likelihood of the condition being a heart attack reduces. These symptoms are amongst the most common in heart attacks.
However many people do not even know that they are stressed. It is only when they analyze their life after having an episode do they realize that things have happened which cause stress.
It’s when the angiogram is found to be good, and cholesterol normal and all of the other heart examinations do not show any negative indications that the patient understands the power of stress.
Our patient spent four days in hospital and in that time understood the importance of changing her lifestyle. After leaving hospital she committed to regular exercise and now says that she is more understanding of the demands put upon her body.
She has also changed her eating and drinking habits as part of her lifestyle change, now she eats more fish, fruit and vegetables and avoids processed food. And she monitors her salt intake as a matter of routine. In addition to this she now listens to her body and believes that if you experience something in your body then you should take action. It’s your body, you are the expert.
Although it has been around for years now, Nagelhout admits that broken heart syndrome is not very well understood. He adds, "It appears to be an overwhelming surge of stress hormones that causes this to happen with the heart muscle". And patients can suffer all of the other issues associated with heart attack, these can be as severe as the heart stopping or arrhythmia, but in a normal case the patient would expect the heart to recover in less than a month.
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