What is broken heart syndrome?
A broken heart syndrome is a group of symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, which occur in response to physical or emotional stress. Most people with stress cardiomyopathy believe they are having a heart attack because symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, are similar in both conditions. However, people with broken heart syndrome do not have blocked coronary arteries, and they usually recover quickly and completely.
Broken heart syndrome is also called Takotusubo cardiomyopathy and stress-induced cardiomyopathy, which means that stress has caused dysfunction or failure of the heart muscle.
How common is broken heart syndrome?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States in 2007 would suffer a myocardial infarction (an interruption of the blood supply to the heart). About 1 percent of this approximation, or 12,000 people, would have experienced stress cardiomyopathy.
Symptoms of broken heart syndrome
The most mutual signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome are angina (chest pain) and shortness of breath. You can experience these things even if you don’t have a history of heart disease.
Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) or cardiogenic shock can also occur with stress cardiomyopathy. Cardiogenic shock is a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, and it can be fatal if not treated right away. (When individuals die from heart attacks, cardiogenic shock is the most common cause of death).
Causes of broken heart syndrome
It is believed that when you have broken heart syndrome, your body releases stress hormones that temporarily slow down the heart’s ability to pump as well as it should, and a part of your heart called the left ventricle provisionally weakens and stops pumping well. Experts also believe that the coronary arteries, which supply oxygen to the heart muscle, spasm. This can cause chest pain. A momentary “freeze” or “light-headed” of your heart can lead to circulation problems.
If stress cardiomyopathy is not treated, it can be as fatal as a heart attack.
Risk factors for broken heart syndrome
There are several known risk factors for broken heart syndrome, including:
- The condition affects women much more often than men.
- It seems that most people with stress cardiomyopathy are over the age of 50.
- History of neurological disease. People who have neurological disorders, such as a head injury or a seizure disorder (epilepsy), are at increased risk for cardiomyopathy.
- A previous or current psychiatric disorder. If you’ve had disorders, such as anxiety or depression, you’re probably at a higher risk for stress cardiomyopathy.
Diagnosis of broken heart syndrome
Because symptoms can feel like a heart attack, you should call to doctor. Even if it is not a heart attack, the initial symptoms can be life-threatening, so it is important to seek medical attention.
Treatment for broken heart syndrome
Initially, the symptoms of wrecked heart syndrome will be treated like those of a heart attack. Once a diagnosis is made, stress cardiomyopathy is treated with medications such as ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure, beta-blockers to lower the heart rate, diuretics to decrease fluid build-up, and anti-anxiety medications to control blood pressure.
Treatments such as angioplasty, stenting, and surgery are used to treat a heart attack but are NOT used in cases of stress cardiomyopathy because they address the problem of blocked arteries, which is not found in stress cardiomyopathy.
Is broken heart syndrome dangerous?
Broken heart syndrome can be life-threatening. In some cases, it can cause plain heart muscle weakness resulting in:
- Congestive heart failure
- Low blood pressure
- Life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities
The good news is that this disorder can improve very quickly if patients are under the care of doctors familiar with the syndrome. Even people who are seriously ill with this condition tend to recover.
In rare cases, broken heart syndrome is fatal. However, most people who experience stress cardiomyopathy recover quickly and have no long-lasting effects.
Other complications of stress cardiomyopathy include:
- Fluid reserve in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Interruptions in your heartbeat
- Heart failure
You may also have cardiomyopathy again if you have another stressful event. However, the chances of this happening are low.
Broken heart syndrome sometimes reoccurs, although most people will not experience a second event. Many doctors recommend long-term treatment with beta-blockers or similar medications that block the potentially harmful effects of stress hormones on the heart. Recognizing and managing stress in your life can also help prevent broken heart syndrome, although there is currently no evidence to prove it.