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Health > Under the Rainbow1/31/07 IS Online

Heart of the Matter

Hawai'i medical student detects Broken Heart Syndrome.

By Tasha Tanimoto

Can't eat. Can't sleep. Suffering from a broken heart?

Many of us know that feeling when a significant other breaks up with us, or an interest rejects us, or when we lose someone close to us. But can a heart really be broken?

A University of Hawai'i medical student has detected the first case of "Broken Heart Syndrome" in a Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. Stephen Chun, a second-year student at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, submitted his findings in a medical paper to The International Journal of Cardiology, which has accepted it for publication.

"In about 50 percent of cases, the patient will have chest pain, EKG signs of a heart attack, and blood chemicals mimicking a heart attack after experiencing the sudden death of a loved one," explains Chun.

Despite all the signs of a heart attack, there are no clogs in the heart's arteries. Instead, there's a ballooning and dysfunction of the heart muscle. The syndrome will resolve itself over time and the heart will return back to normal. If mistaken for a heart attack and treated with medication, the patient can experience severe bleeding.

Broken Heart Syndrome was first discovered in Japan in 1991. It was referred to as "Takotsubo cardiomyopathy" because the heart looked like an octopus (tako) pot (tsubo) in imaging studies. Chun initially studied the syndrome in Japan in 2006.

So far, there have been no other documented cases of Broken Heart Syndrome in Hawai'i.

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