It was a hot September night a few weeks ago, the evening after construction noise had kept my family awake beginning at 2 AM. When the decibels rose at 9:30 PM, I went out to investigate.

Klieg lights illuminated the site across the busy street behind our back fence for all-night digging by a huge tractor-like jackhammer. I managed to get the workers’ attention. “What are you doing?” I hollered. “People are trying to sleep over here!” They got off the tractor and went to confer with co-workers. I took pictures with my cell phone to send to the police. When I turned around to walk home, I got a sudden pain in my right jaw. I stopped. I’d read recently that women’s heart attack symptoms could be different from men’s. Was jaw pain one?

Yes, it was. By the time I had a blood test in the ER an hour later, my cardiac enzymes were 300 times normal. I was having what’s called stress-induced cardiomyopathy. I had a heart attack even though I exercise every day, eat all my fruits and veggies and have normal cholesterol. (I am on medication for high blood pressure, which is why I went to the hospital without ever having chest pain or shortness of breath.) After a night in the ICU, my new cardiologist’s suspicion that this was stress-induced was confirmed by an angiogram. He saw ballooning of my heart muscle. My arteries are “pristine.” This was not my grandfather’s heart attack.

Japanese doctors identified this type in 1990 and called it Takotsubo. It wasn’t even recognized in this country until 2001. Ninety percent of Takotsubo patients are female. It’s usually triggered by a sudden, stressful event to a woman who is already dealing with stress or sorrow. In my case, it was probably my brother’s recent death. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is sometimes called broken-heart syndrome. Although it can be fatal, I expect to recover in weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve signed up for mindfulness-based stress-reduction class at the hospital. And when workers return for overnight noise-making, we close the windows.

With a Perspective, I'm Debbie Duncan.

Debbie Duncan lives on the Peninsula where she writes and reviews children's books.

Takotsubo 14 January,2016perspectives

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor