Woman diagnosed with broken heart syndrome

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PHOENIX – The pain of a broken heart is not just something written about in poems and songs. It’s very real and it can become deadly.

In the moments leading up to her surgery, 68-year-old Sharon Acton displayed vital signs of a woman a third of her age. "When they did the test they said I had the arteries of a 20-year-old.”

But each day for Acton is like a roll of the dice. She says, “I could literally walk down the street and die of a broken heart.”

She’s right. She could die of what’s known as broken heart syndrome. It’s a condition that mimics a heart attack or a heart condition brought on by acute stress.

Dr. Hina Saddiqui, a cardiologist, says, “It can be emotional stress. It can be physical stress. Stress is the common denominator.”

For Acton, it was her husband’s diagnosis with congestive heart failure followed by her mother’s death that led to her unbearable stress. She says, “It's like something hits you upside the head. It's like something hits you in the chest. Something hits you all over.”

Then, while taking a cruise with husband Roy in January, Acton says she began having anxiety attacks and shortness of breath.

The diagnosis was a heart attack. It wasn't until returning to the states that she learned otherwise. 

Most patients return to normal in weeks, but not Acton. That's why she's having a defibrillator implanted.

Dr. Saddiqui says, "Think of it as a paramedic sitting in your chest, constantly monitoring your rhythm.”

While much more research still needs to be done, the most susceptible to getting broken heart syndrome appear to be women who are middle-aged or elderly.