There is actually a medical condition called broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, that is the result of suffering extreme stress, such as the loss of a loved one or the ending of a romantic relationship. When suffering from this condition, people experience chest pains and think they are having a heart attack.
When the heart reacts to a surge of stress hormones, such as cortisol, this can cause symptoms. Your heart gets bigger temporarily and can’t pump as efficiently. The heart contractions may be more forceful than normal. Symptoms of this condition include general weakness, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and chest pain, all of which mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.
This condition is preceded by news that is disturbing, such as a bad medical diagnosis, loss of money, abuse, news of a death, fear of performing in public, an infection, major surgery, an asthma attack, a car accident or even a surprise party. A tremendous emotional shock can result in sudden and reversible heart failure that is not a classic heart attack. When a person is shocked or stress, it can lead to an outpouring of catecholamines, such as noradrenaline and adrenaline -- also known as norepinephrine and epinephrine -- into the blood stream along with small proteins and broken-down products that are emitted by the excited nervous system. These chemicals are toxic, temporarily, to the heart and stun the heart muscles. This produces symptoms that are very much like a heart attack. Doctors think these chemicals may cause the coronary arteries to spasm or cause calcium overload that results in temporary dysfunction.
The medical community isn’t sure what causes broken heart syndrome, although adrenaline may be the culprit. A big dose of adrenaline is capable of temporarily damaging a heart. The constriction of large or small arteries to the heart also may contribute to this syndrome. This condition also can result in a buildup of fluid in your lungs, which is called pulmonary edema, disruptions in your heartbeat and a heartbeat that is too slow or too fast.
Fortunately, in broken heart syndrome, the arteries are not blocked because of fatty buildup that results in atherosclerosis and can cause a heart attack, although blood flow in the heart’s arteries may be reduced during an attack. This condition isn’t normally fatal nor does it result in irreversible muscle damage. Recovery is quick.