Broken heart syndrome really happens

Broken hearts go beyond emotions and sentiments. Stress-induced cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome, is a condition caused by stress on the heart that can be the result of negative and positive influences. It is a temporary condition but it can result in symptoms similar to those of a heart attack including chest pain and shortness of breath.

Broken heart syndrome was first described in Japan in 1990 as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, after the shape the heart resembles when it occurs. A takot subo is the Japanese term for an octopus pot and the heart takes on a similar shape during stress-induced cardiomyopathy. In most cases, the condition is temporary and recovery is successful. Occasionally, however, heart failure, arrhythmia and, death have been associated with stress cardiomyopathy.

What causes stress cardiomyopathy?

Sudden stressful events, such as the loss of a loved one or a job or being rejected by a romantic interest can cause stress cardiomyopathy. Similarly, divorce, betrayal and separation from loved ones are listed as causes, along with physical violence and reaction to natural disasters. According to the American College of Cardiology (ACC), a sense of doom, danger and desperation often accompany such occurrences and contribute to the probability of broken heart syndrome.

Conversely, positive events, such as winning a lottery or another pleasant surprise, may cause a stressful jolt triggering the condition. As opposed to “broken heart syndrome,” this is sometimes referred to as “happy heart syndrome.” In either case, the heart experiences stress without distinguishing whether the cause is positive or negative.

The types of stress-induced cardiomyopathy are delineated to primary, if this is the reason a person is being treated, or secondary. Secondary is the term used when a patient is being treated for another condition when stress cardiomyopathy occurs.

How the heart is affected

Broken heart syndrome can have an impact on the heart by causing the left ventricle to become weak. This impedes its ability to pump blood properly. The left ventricle is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood to tissues throughout the body. Spasms may also occur in the coronary arteries.  Stress-induced cardiomyopathy does cause the heart to weaken and has sometimes resulted in congestive heart failure, low blood pressure and irregular heartbeats. During the occurrence, the heart changes shape. That’s the reason for the term the Japanese used in comparing the shape of the heart to an octopus pot during stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

Risk and diagnosis

While anyone who experiences sudden stress is susceptible to broken heart syndrome, it appears most often in women. Of all who experience it, 90% are women. Most are post-menopausal women middle aged and older; especially those aged 58 to 75.

Since the most common symptoms of stress-induced cardiomyopathy, chest pain and shortness of breath, are also heart attack symptoms, it is important that it be properly diagnosed. To achieve this, a cardiologist may use an electrocardiogram (EKG) that reports irregularity in heartbeat rhythms. Because broken heart syndrome changes the shape of the heart, an echocardiogram that shows the heart’s structure may also be utilized.  Chest x-rays may also determine the structure of the heart and blood tests may indicate enzymes related to the condition. These tests and others are designed to ensure that stress-induced cardiomyopathy, and not another condition, should be treated.

Recovery

Unlike other cardiac events, issues resulting from broken heart syndrome often are resolved within days or weeks. Drugs including aspirin, beta blockers that can control blood pressure and heart rhythm, and ACE inhibitors that widen blood vessels may be prescribed by a cardiologist.

Removing the source of stress that may have initiated broken heart syndrome is also recommended.

To learn more about stress-induced cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome) log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.