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What Is Broken Heart Syndrome (Stress Cardiomyopathy)? Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Broken heart syndrome is known by many names such as stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome. The condition is a reversible or temporary heart condition that mimics a heart attack and is developed in response to intense physical or emotional stress, causing rapid and severe heart muscle weakness.

The condition was first described in Japan by a cardiologist in the year 1990. The Japanese word 'takotsubo' means 'fishing pot for trapping octopus' that has a wide bottom and narrow neck. Broken heart syndrome in patients causes systolic ballooning in the left ventricle, which is similar to the shape of the octopus trap. [1]

In this article, we will discuss details of broken heart syndrome. Take a look.

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Causes Of Broken Heart Syndrome

Studies say that broken heart syndrome can occur as a result of a variety of emotional stress factors such as grief, extreme anger, fear and surprise. These factors cause a release of high amounts of hormones such as adrenaline, epinephrine, noradrenaline and norepinephrine to cope with the stress in the body.

As a result, high amounts of these hormones interfere with the heart's pumping chamber (left ventricle) and cause changes in its shape (like an octopus trap), leading to a temporary decrease in the blood supply to the heart. [2]

Some of the examples are:

  • Financial stability.
  • Death of a loved one.
  • Occupation-related emotional stress.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Accident
  • Argument
  • Divorce
  • Sudden surprises such as winning a lottery.
  • Public speaking.

Some of the physical stressors that can cause the condition include:

  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Acute asthma
  • Anxiety medications
  • Nasal decongestants
  • Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine.

Symptoms Of Broken Heart Syndrome

Some of the symptoms of broken heart syndrome may include: [3]

  • Chest pain, without any history of heart diseases.
  • Mild increase in a cardiac enzyme.
  • ST segment elevation in the precordial leads or signs of myocardial ischemia such as a fast heartbeat.
  • Dyspnoea or shortness of breath.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fainting.
  • Extreme sweating
  • Dizziness

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Risk Factors Of Broken Heart Syndrome

Some of the risk factors of broken heart syndrome may include:

  • Gender: The condition is prevalent in women, especially elderly menopausal women compared to men. [4]
  • Age: People over 50 are at greater risk of the condition compared to younger age groups.
  • People with a medical condition: Those with medical conditions like hypertension, dyslipidemia and diabetes are at greater risk of the condition. [5]

Complications Of Broken Heart Syndrome

Though broken heart syndrome is a reversible condition, in some cases, it may lead to complications such as:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Buildup of fluid in the lungs
  • Formation of blood clots.
  • Blockage in the blood supply from the left ventricle.
  • Death

Diagnosis Of Broken Heart Syndrome

As broken heart syndrome mimics a heart attack, some of the symptoms may confuse a medical expert during the diagnosis. Therefore, a proper medical history of a patient, along with recent episodes of physical or emotional stressors, must be properly examined by a medical expert to rule out other heart conditions. [6]

Some of the diagnostic methods may include:

  • ECG: To check for the heart's rhythm and record its electrical activity.
  • Echocardiogram: It helps get medical imaging of the heart and look for signs of inflammation in the heart and nearby vessels.
  • Blood test: It helps check for enzymes which are indicators of damage to the heart muscles. [7]
  • Angiography: It helps visualise the blood vessels, veins and chambers of the heart.

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Treatment Of Broken Heart Syndrome

The treatment of broken heart syndrome depends on the severity of the condition and may vary from patient to patient. Some of the treatment methods may include:

  • Medications: Such as aspirin, beta-blockers, angiotensin‐converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and diuretics.
  • Surgeries: It is done in rare cases to treat blocked arteries in the heart.
  • Stress management: It includes methods like yoga or meditation.

To Conclude

Broken heart syndrome is not life-threatening. If occurred, it can easily be treated with medication and most patients recover completely within one or two months. Deaths happen rarely in patients with the condition due to heart failure. Yoga and meditation may help cope with daily stress and reduce the risk of broken heart syndrome.