“It broke my heart.”
It’s a common thing we say when something painful or sad happens, like a breakup with your significant other or the death of a loved one. But our hearts don’t actually break into pieces like they do on cartoons, right?
Technically no, but you can experience broken heart syndrome — a condition known medically as takotsubo cardiomyopathy. A new report published in The New England Journal of Medicine details the case of Joanie Simpson, a 61-year-old Texas woman who developed the condition after the death of her beloved Yorkshire Terrier, Meha.
Simpson’s symptoms started soon after her dog’s death and got so severe that she was airlifted from her local emergency room to Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute in Houston where they diagnosed her with takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Broken heart syndrome can be triggered by more than sad events
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy typically occurs after a person — even a healthy one — experiences emotional or physical stress. "The heart muscle suddenly weakens and doesn't squeeze the way it should” leading to broken heart syndrome symptoms like low blood pressure and even congestive heart failure, Dr. Ilan Wittstein, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins and broken-heart syndrome researcher, told The Washington Post.
It’s typically associated with sadness, but “a whole variety of emotional triggers can cause it," he says. One woman even developed takotsubo cardiomyopathy after a surprise birthday party, according to a 2005 study from Johns Hopkins Hospital.
As many as 2 percent of people can develop the syndrome, but it typically affects women like Simpson ranging from 58 to 75. The reason isn’t exactly known, but it’s likely due to a drop in estrogen. In Simpson’s case, it seems like Meha’s death was the nail in the proverbial coffin after a stressful few months. “It was such a horrendous thing to have to witness,” Simpson told The Post of Meha’s death at home. “When you’re already kind of upset about other things, it’s like a brick on a scale. I mean, everything just weighs on you.”
The good news is that it’s typically not fatal and broken heart syndrome treatment can be simple. Simpson was home within a few days and is taking heart medication as a preventative.
And, even after all this, she’s ready to get another dog.
“It is heartbreaking. It is traumatic. It is all of the above,” Simpson said of Meha’s death. “But you know what? They give so much love and companionship that I’ll do it again. I will continue to have pets. That’s not going to stop me.”