Could a broken heart have killed the husband of a slain Texas professor?
May 27, 2022 — In a seemingly endless stream of tragic news from Uvalde, Texas, the husband of a slain teacher died Thursday just after returning from his memorial.
Irma Garcia was one of two teachers shot, along with 19 students, at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday. Family members said Thursday that her husband and high school sweetheart, Joe, died of a broken heart.
“I truly believe Joe died of a broken heart and losing the love of his life for over 25 years was too much to bear,” Irma’s cousin Debra Austin said. written on a GoFundMe pagewhich by late Friday afternoon had raised over $2.29 million.
While the exact cause of Joe Garcia’s death is unclear, death by broken heart isn’t some hyperbolic myth perpetuated by books and movies. Not only is it real, but doctors say it’s on the rise.
Broken heart syndrome, known medically as takotsubo cardiomyopathy or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, can occur when a person has experienced extreme stress, including but not limited to the loss of a loved one .
Most cases of broken heart syndrome occur in women – around 88% – usually during the post-menopausal years.
Symptoms mimic those of a classic heart attack: sudden, severe chest pain and shortness of breath. But unlike a heart attack, broken heart syndrome doesn’t usually involve blocked coronary arteries or permanent heart damage. Rather, the extreme amount of stress sends the heart into a state of shock, which then prevents the heart muscle from tightening properly, says Tracy Stevens, MD, cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City.
“Adrenaline is released by the adrenal gland and then binds to receptors and can cause this severe fight-or-flight response,” Stevens says. “We’re seeing more of that in the last few years, maybe because with the pandemic we’re seeing a level of stress in this country that we’ve never seen before.”
Although there is no research on stressors related to the pandemic and a possible increase in cases, a 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that between 2006 and 2017, the diagnosis of broken heart syndrome increased at least 6-10 times faster among women in the 50-74 age group than any other group.
The disease may be fatal, but it tends to be less fatal than a heart attack, with a mortality rate of only about 2%, says Abhijeet Dhoble, MD, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at McGovern Medical in University of Texas Health Sciences Center. School.
Stress can be a trigger for both, says Dhoble. But a heart attack has an underlying cause, while broken heart syndrome is only induced by stress.
Doctors often discover that a patient has suffered a stress-induced episode rather than a heart attack by seeing the heart’s left ventricle, its main pumping chamber, Dhoble says. In these cases, the left ventricle develops a narrow neck and a round bottom, taking the shape of an octopus pot – a device used by fishermen in Japan called a takotsubo.
“It follows acute stress in people’s lives, whether it’s losing a job or losing a family member,” says Dhoble. “It can be fatal, but usually it’s reversible.”
To treat broken heart syndrome, doctors usually give blood pressure medication and blood thinners, with a recovery time that can take up to a week.
Various stressful life events can make a person more vulnerable to illness, said Cristina Montalvo, MD, chief of consultation-liaison and emergency psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center. Stressors ranging from chronic anxiety to living through high-stress events like terrorist attacks can make someone more vulnerable, she says.
“Surprise, acute loss, or even acute physical fatigue can lead to changes in the heart,” she says. “It’s definitely something we see more often.”