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Winter Storm Avery takes lives, puts the brakes on commutes across the Northeast. Also on our Friday rundown: A first-of-its-kind report calls for policies to ease transitions of young people living in foster care. And "got gratitude" this holiday season? It could benefit your health.

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A Valentine's Day Warning About the Heart

Women are most often affected by broken heart syndrome, which mimics a heart attack and can be fatal without prompt medical attention. (Virginia Carter)
Women are most often affected by broken heart syndrome, which mimics a heart attack and can be fatal without prompt medical attention. (Virginia Carter)
February 14, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - As many celebrate Valentine's Day, some people are head-over-heels in love while others experience heartache. That leads to the question: Can you die of a broken heart?

According to some experts, the answer is "yes." Broken heart syndrome, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, can even be fatal, said Dr. Don Bucklin, regional medical director for Concentra, a company that runs medical centers and wellness programs. He said it happens when the heart gets a shock from extreme stress or sadness and doesn't beat very well. Symptoms mimic a heart attack, Bucklin said, and include chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat.

"Your heart is overwhelmed by all those stress hormones, all that cortisone and adrenaline, and everything pumping through you when you're angry and sad," he said. "Your heart takes a beating for it - and sometimes, it tries to just take a break."

He said broken heart syndrome can strike anyone, but mostly affects women age 55 and older, often after a major physical strain such as surgery or mental hardship such as the death of a loved one. It also can be triggered by other major life events - from job loss or divorce to accidents and natural disasters.

If you're experiencing what you believe are heart attack symptoms, Bucklin said, call 911 and get emergency treatment. Doctors can perform tests to determine whether it's a heart attack or a bout of broken heart syndrome.

"While it looks like a heart attack, it's not, and it's 100 percent reversible," he said. "So, if you're having chest pain, and short of breath and that kind of thing, and you've had a recent big trauma in your life, you probably need to get into the emergency room pronto."

Treatment of broken heart syndrome may include heart medications, such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers or diuretics, plus longer-term stress management. According to the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease, most patients make a full recovery within one to two months.

More information is online at womenheart.org and ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL