One woman’s wedding wasabi—apparently mistaken for avocado—ended up sending her to the emergency room with a strange medical condition called broken heart syndrome, according to a new case study.
In a paper published this month in the journal BMJ Reports, doctors detailed the unusual incident, which took place in Israel. According to her doctors, the 60-year-old woman had been a guest at a wedding, where she “ate a large amount of wasabi, assuming it to be an avocado.” She almost immediately started experiencing chest pain but chose to tough it out.
“After she ate the wasabi, she felt a sudden pressure in her chest radiating to her arms, which lasted [a] few hours,” doctors wrote. “She decided not to leave the wedding and the pain started to subside.”
The next day, still feeling weak and out-of-sorts, the women visited a local emergency room. While she wasn’t suffering from anything immediately life-threatening, like a heart attack, doctors ultimately diagnosed her with takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The condition is characterized by a sudden weakening of the heart’s left ventricle, which causes it to balloon out, resulting in a shape that resembles an octopus trap (in Japan, this trap is called a takotsubo, hence the name). This weakening also causes chest pain that can be reminiscent of a heart attack.
Takotsubo is usually triggered by a heavy dose of stress, which can include the sort of turmoil you might feel from being frightened or from losing a loved one—and the latter is where the nickname of broken heart syndrome comes from. But in this case, it was probably the wasabi that led to the woman’s symptoms. Why blame the wasabi? There were simply no other potential triggers that made any sense, according to the doctors. If so, it would be the first wasabi-caused case of broken heart ever documented.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about takotsubo. Older women, like the patient in this case, tend to be at higher risk for reasons that aren’t entirely clear (one theory is that menopause can change the heart’s response to stress hormones). So the doctors hope that future research studying the condition can take strange incidents like this into account.
Thankfully, though people can die of a broken heart or be more likely to develop heart problems in the future, the condition typically isn’t fatal, and most people recover fine with no special treatment. Within a month’s time, the doctors wrote, the woman was no worse for wear.