Mistaking wasabi for avocado can leave you broken-hearted — literally.
That's what happened when a 60-year-old woman in Israel ate a spoonful of the spicy condiment at a wedding, thinking it was avocado. According to a case report published earlier this month in BMJ Case Reports, the woman went on to develop what's known as “broken heart syndrome."
"She was sure it was an avocado, that is why she took a full spoon of it," said case report author Dr. Alona Finkel-Oron, a physician at Soroka University Medical Center in Israel. "Of course, she was shocked to find out it was not."
Shortly after eating wasabi, the woman said she felt a sudden pressure in her chest, which lasted for a few hours. The next day, she still wasn't feeling well, so she went to the emergency room.
Initial tests suggested that the woman might be having a heart attack — her blood pressure was elevated and an electrocardiogram, which measures electrical activity in the heart, was abnormal, the report said.
But further tests showed that the woman's symptoms weren't brought on by a heart attack. Her blood was flowing normally, but her heart had become misshapen and couldn't properly pump blood.
This condition is known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, named for the shape the heart takes on, which resembles a Japanese octopus fishing pot called a takotsubo. Specifically, the left ventricle becomes enlarged and can't contract to pump blood through the body.
The condition also goes by another name: broken heart syndrome. That's because it can be triggered by extreme emotional or physical stress.
Broken heart syndrome is often thought of as a condition that occurs in older women after the death of a spouse, but roughly one third of cases have a physical trigger, according to a previous study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The exact reason that broken heart syndrome happens is unknown. One hypothesis is that a surge of catecholamines, or stress hormones, are toxic to the heart.
In most cases, patients survive the initial shock of the stress event and their hearts return to the normal shape within a month. In the woman's case, she spent four days in the hospital but fully recovered, Finkel-Oron told NBC News.
The authors of the report noted that while physical and emotional stress are established triggers for broken heart syndrome, this is the first known case where spicy food was the cause.