The Wall Street Journal has an article on a curious medical condition called ‘broken heart syndrome’ where grief or strong emotion seems mimic a heart attack.
The piece starts with a case description of a lady who had just experience the death of her husband from a heart attack and her reaction which seemed to also be a heart attack:
When doctors performed an X-ray angiogram expecting to find and treat a blood clot that had caused Mrs. Lee’s symptoms, they were surprised: There wasn’t any evidence of a heart attack. Her coronary arteries were completely clear.
Doctors eventually determined that Mrs. Lee had suffered from broken-heart syndrome, a name given by doctors who observed that it seemed to especially affect patients who had recently lost a spouse or other family member. The mysterious malady mimics heart attacks, but appears to have little connection with coronary artery disease. Instead, it is typically triggered by acute emotion or physical trauma that releases a surge of adrenaline that overwhelms the heart. The effect is to freeze much of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, disrupting its ability to contract and effectively pump blood.
The condition is also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and it’s probably worth saying that the idea that the condition is caused by a spike of adrenaline is still under debate although the WSJ article does a good job of looking at alternatives further down the piece.