Recently I read Starts at 60‘s article ‘Expert answers: Can you really die from a broken heart?’. It was a topic I could personally relate to. Almost four years ago, I nearly died from a broken heart.
I had a severe heart attack and, aren’t we women lucky, it was a silent one so I didn’t know until later – yes, that’s sarcasm – that I was lucky to survive. It wasn’t diagnosed for two months. I was in England at the time and felt no one would listen to me. I flew back to Australia, risking my life, and was taken to hospital on arrival. It was found I could have dropped dead from a massive heart attack at any moment.
I had a large blockage on my right coronary artery. I also needed a bypass on what they later told me was a ‘wait and see’ artery, which would repair my mitral valve and circumnavigate another surgery at a later date. At this stage it’s only thought I’d suffered a regular heart attack.
Since then, my cholesterol has been great and there has been no further deterioration because I eat a very healthy diet, I always have. A doctor I have known well for years started researching my heart attack. I did too. Obviously, I was looking at things from the layman’s perspective, accessing whatever information is available to me, but we’ve both come to the conclusion that what I suffered was a takotsubo cardiomyopathy (also known as Takotsubo Syndrome or Broken Heart Syndrome).
The condition occurs almost exclusively in women between the ages of 58-75. Research suggests that up to 5 per cent of women evaluated for a heart attack actually have Takotsubo Syndrome. The main symptoms are chest pain and shortness of breath, but stressors such as the loss of a loved one, a serious accident or a natural disaster that has a severe emotional or physical impact are also associated with Takotsubo Syndrome.
Given how close I came to actually dying, I feel it is absolutely possible to die from a broken heart.
In the year before this heart incident, a cardiology professor in London, England had put me through my paces on a large number of tests and come to the conclusion it was highly unlikely I would ever suffer with any heart problems. Famous last words …
England would metaphorically and literally break my heart. I felt shattered through to the core being there. I felt broken hearted, but could never have imagined I would suffer a severe heart attack as a result of my experience there.
I experienced a lot of personal and emotional stress during my time in England. Despite living a healthy life and my heart health regarded as being in good condition, I had many health issues and eventually suffered a severe heart attack.
At this time I was feeling isolated from family and friends, and the country I once called home. I felt no one, including the medical professionals I approached, was listening to my cries for help. It left me heart broken.
Of course, the two months without treatment did not help my situation. Not only did I have a stent put in as soon as I’d returned from the United Kingdom, but it was followed by open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve. Roughly one quarter of my heart doesn’t function properly and I feel I’m not the person I used to be. My doctors cannot believe I survived, I was in such a mess.
I believe it’s difficult for women because we also suffer silent heart attacks. I recall one evening feeling unwell so I went to be early. I’d started keeping a diary of such things, which helped me trace when I had suffered. There was no pain, nothing, just a feeling of being unwell.
I’m not sure what the answer it. I’m not sure we can be running to our doctors every time we feel ‘unwell’. However, extreme pain and breathlessness on exertion should raise alarms with most people. When those things happened though I wasn’t near the doctor, I was staggering around doing basic shopping and leaning on the trolley for support. People would always ask me if I was all right.
In Adelaide, South Australia, I’m aware that there is a lot of research into broken heart syndrome being done. I hope that whatever research is being done by any organisation can reveal more information and advise on preventative measures. I would encourage anyone who experiences chest pain, tightness and shortness of breath to dizziness, nausea and heart burn to treat it seriously and either call an ambulance or get to a doctor for treatment.