Broken Heart Syndrome Said To Feel Like Heart Attack

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Friday, March 9, 2012 - 2:59pm

Carmel Mechlin remembers the car crash like it was yesterday.

"It was like, 'Oh, my God,' and we realized a gentleman ran a red light and hit the driver's side of the van," said Mechlin.

The 65-year-old grandmother was in the passenger seat of the van.

Her three young grandchildren were in the back, and her daughter was behind the wheel.

The crash happened just before last Christmas.

"It was frightening, and it was life-changing," said Mechlin.

Everyone survived the crash, and Mechlin's family was uninjured, but the stress of the crash and the fear of losing her daughter and three grandchildren launched Mechlin into serious, haunting symptoms that mirrored a heart attack.

"I started experiencing heaviness in my chest, and when I would breathe I would have really bad pain," said Mechlin.

She was rushed to the emergency department at Riverside Methodist Hospital where doctors closely examined her, reviewed her symptoms and did extensive testing.

It looked like Mechlin was having a heart attack, and it felt like it, too, but Mechlin got a diagnosis from Dr. John Tugaoen, a cardiologist at Riverside Methodist Hospital.

"He is the one that said I had broken heart syndrome. My heart was 100 percent healthy before that," said Mechlin.

More women are being diagnosed with broken heart syndrome, a once puzzling heart problem doctors admit they would see but had trouble diagnosing.

"It's like a fight or flight. Your adrenaline in your system just goes suddenly high," said Tugaoen.

That's exactly what happened to Mechlin in the crash.

He describes broken heart syndrome as being caused by a sudden stressful, emotional or physical event.

"Like somebody broke up unexpectedly, somebody died unexpectedly, or like an automobile accident, like this patient," said Tugaoen. He adds that more than 90 percent of patients are women and mostly postmenopausal women.

Often, we hear of stories of someone experiencing these symptoms or dying suddenly after the loss of a spouse.

Broken heart syndrome looks and feels like a heart attack, with the same symptoms, but it is not.

Instead, the heart swells and is weakened but often has a much better outcome.

Most patients fully recover in a few weeks.

"A majority of these patients are back to normal -- like nothing happened," said Tugaoen.

Still, broken heart syndrome is very serious and nothing to ignore.

Today, Mechlin is going strong, and said it was a reminder that we all need to listen to our bodies.

"It really makes you aware of your body and when it is telling you something, you better pay attention. Your life can change in a matter of seconds, and I do feel blessed," said Mechlin who is enjoying life with her grandchildren.

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