Study: Broken heart can trigger heart attack

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on April 25, 2012 at 5:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 25 at 5:29 PM

DALLAS — "My chest started hurting and it was hurting across my shoulders," recalled 56-year-old Beverly Spinden. "And you know what I remember more? More my upper arms."

A year after that heart attack, Spinden still reflects on its surprising cause. It wasn't plaque build-up from unhealthy living, but her beloved dog, named Ritz.

Just days after Ritz died, Spinden started suffering chest pain.

She went to Texas Health Dallas Hospital and was treated by Dr. James Park, an interventional cardiologist wh has seen cases like Sinden's before.

"What they theorize is the arteries spasm, causing damage to the heart," he said. "Then, when I do an angiogram to look at the arteries, it looks like there's no blockages there, but there's damage to the heart."

It's called stress cardiomyopathy, or "broken heart syndrome."

New research presented this week at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego finds that during mental stress, blood flow through the heart increases in men, but doesn't change in women. The findings suggest women's hearts might not adjust properly to stress.

This study involved just 17 people. Experts say more studies are needed to determine why there is a gender difference in stress response.

"I think that women — being the complex beings that they are — they really do get affected by stressful situations," Dr. Park said. "How they react is after an event is much worse than men. Some of that is late diagnosis; some of that is the artery size differences."

Beverly Spinden has had no lasting effects from the attack, though her heart still aches for Ritz.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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