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  1. Extreme emotional distress can cause the heart muscles to weaken. When someone loses a loved one or endures a terrible loss, people might say they have a broken heart. But that’s a figure of speech, of course, typically meant to describe the mental pain associated with losing someone extremely close to you. But a proverbial broken heart can cause physical symptoms, too. And sometimes, in rare cases, those physiological changes—often accompanied by other underlying conditions—can be life threatening. A number of high-profile examples over the years have hinted at this: The most recent is Debbie Reynolds, who passed away last December just a few days after her daughter, fellow actress Carrie Fisher, died suddenly of a heart attack. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers may have found another case in Texas: a study published this week describes a woman whose heart disease could be connected to the loss of her cherished pet. This phenomenon is still not completely understood. But potential cases come up often enough for the condition to earn a name: Takotsubo syndrome, or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Literally translated from Japanese as “octopus trap,” the name references the way in which the problem develops. In a classic heart attack, a clot forms (typically from plaque) within a person’s blood vessels. This restricts bloodflow, with its life-sustaining oxygen, to the heart. But in the case of Takotsubo syndrome, what appears to be a massive heart attack comes without any identifiable clot to cause it. Symptoms of Takotsubo mimic a normal heart attack. The patient often complains of shortness of breath, has dangerously high blood pressure, and experiences chest pain. But instead of a clot, weakened heart muscles are to blame. The many clinical case reports and studies on Takotsubo syndrome suggest that this condition almost always presents in individuals who have experienced some sort of intense trauma or extreme emotional hardship—losing a loved one, especially a spouse or a child.
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