Monday, June 19, 2006

broken-heart syndrome

I read this in The New York Times Magazine:

human heart"First described by the Japanese 15 years ago, this disease occurs when an emotional trauma causes the brain to release high doses of stress hormones. This hormonal blast paralyzes the muscle cells of the heart, preventing them from working to pump the blood. Typically only one section of the heart is spared this devastating paralysis—the part closest to the aorta—so that with each heart beat only the upper portion contracts and the heart looks like a narrowed-necked vase. The Japanese called it takotsubo after a type of trap that is used to capture octopus and has the same vaselike shape. For reasons that no one understands, this mostly affects post-menopausal women.

There is no cure. There is no clot to bust, no bugs to kill. Like its metaphorical counterpart, the only treatment is support and the passage of time. The initial burst of hormones subsides and the patient must be kept alive until the heart recovers. For those who survive long enough to reach the hospital, the prognosis is good."