When broken heart is a matter of life and death.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

When broken heart is a matter of life and death.

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Adele shot to fame singing songs about heartbreaks. The cynics may think the sentiments are maudlin, but heart doctors know better. According to studies, women are more likely to suffer from the “Broken Heart Syndrome”. 

“Also known as Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy, this typically occurs in post-menopausal women who have experienced emotional stress, such as due to bereavement or intense quarrels,” shares Dr Julian Tan, a heart specialist at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. 

These women could in fact have no blockages or tears in their heart arteries, yet could still be hit by a debilitating heart attack. “The cause of this is unknown, but it is postulated to be due to the  uctuation of stress hormones in the body,” says Dr Tan. 

He also highlights that while pre- menopausal women have less risk of heart attacks than their male counterparts, the risk is equal post-menopause. 

The Broken Heart Syndome is one of the two forms of heart attacks that are more common in women. The other is Spontaneous Coronary Dissection which occurs – not infrequently – in young women, usually during or after pregnancy. “The cause is the sudden tearing of the wall of the heart arteries,” details Dr Tan. This causes blockage of the vessels, leading to cardiac arrest. 

Aside from controlling risk factors like hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, and leading an active and healthy lifestyle, these heart conditions cannot be prevented. Dr Tan emphasises that the important thing is to seek immediate attention from an interventional cardiologist when one suspects that something is amiss. 

“The indicators of a heart attack in women are less obvious or typical, such as a vague ‘tummy upset’, palpitations, or feelings of general anxiety,” observes the interventional cardiologist with close to two decades’ experience. “That being said, there are clearer and more objective indicators that the cardiologist can utilise (ECG, blood tests, clinical examination) to con rm the diagnosis of a heart attack.” And with that, suitable treatment can be prescribed. 

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More information at Julian Tan Heart Specialist Clinic, #14-09/10 Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, 3 Mount Elizabeth. Tel: 6235-8733.