Broken Heart Syndrome
Caused by a surge of stress hormones
Sherry Sosebee thought she was managing the stress in her life. In 2008, her husband, Tim, had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Though devastated, Sosebee kept moving forward.
"I had to," says Sosebee. She had a daughter in college, another about to start and a son with a disability to care for. "I tell Tim he didn't die at a very good time."
Two years after her husband's fatal heart attack, Sosebee, then 53, thought she might be having one as well.
Heart attack symptoms
"It felt like a surge of energy, then felt like someone put a fist in my chest and another in my back," says Sosebee. She went to the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea, Minn., where staff began running tests to determine whether Sosebee was having heart attack. Then they called Mayo Clinic to summon a Mayo One emergency helicopter to transport Sosebee for further evaluation and treatment.
"It was exactly what had happened to my husband," says Sosebee. "It was emotional to say the least."
Apical ballooning syndrome
At Mayo Clinic, doctors told Sosebee she hadn't had a heart attack after all. Instead, she had apical ballooning syndrome, also known as broken heart syndrome. This rare condition feels like a heart attack, but is caused by a surge of stress-hormones, rather than a blocked artery to the heart.
Mimics a heart attack
Broken heart syndrome symptoms can mimic a heart attack. Common symptoms include:
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- An irregular heartbeat.
- A generalized weakness.
Any long-lasting or persistent chest pain could be a sign of a heart attack, so it's important to take it seriously and call 911 if you experience chest pain.
No lasting damage to the heart
"Fortunately, as in Sherry Sosebee's case, heart function can return to normal after apical ballooning syndrome," says Sandra Birchem, D.O., a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. "Most patients make a quick and complete recovery."
Sosebee is one of them. After three nights in the hospital, she returned home to Albert Lea, and began cardiac rehabilitation to strengthen her heart. In addition to rehabilitation, Sosebee has had two follow-up visits with Dr. Birchen to monitor her heart function and adjust medications. "The transition from Mayo Clinic back to Albert Lea was seamless," says Sosebee.
Having one less item on her to-do list is important to Sosebee, who continues to work at managing the stress in her life. "This experience has taught me that I can't do it all, and that I need to slow down," she says. "That's a challenge, but I'm getting better at it."