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Broken Heart Syndrome

A Broken Heart

What is broken heart syndrome?

Broken heart syndrome is the term given to a cluster of temporary symptoms that resemble a heart attack but occur in response to physical or emotional stress.

Most people with broken heart syndrome make a full recovery. Broken heart syndrome may also be called Takotusubo cardiomyopathy or stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

What causes broken heart syndrome?

The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is not fully understood but the symptoms are caused by emotional or physical stress. In times of stress, the body releases hormones called catecholamines that temporarily reduce the effectiveness of the heart to pump or make it pump irregularly or too strongly.

Stressors that may bring on broken heart syndrome include:

  • The death of a loved one
  • A separation or divorce
  • An asthma attack
  • A lottery win
  • A reunion
  • A surprise
  • Overexertion
  • The breakup of a relationship

Women, especially postmenopausal Caucasian or Asian women, are more prone to broken heart syndrome than men.

Even though symptoms of broken heart syndrome are like those of a heart attack, people with broken heart syndrome do not have blocked coronary arteries and usually make a full recovery.

What are the symptoms of broken heart syndrome?

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome usually occur within minutes or hours of a stressful event. They resemble those of a heart attack and may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting
  • Low blood pressure

How is broken heart syndrome Diagnosed?

If you develop chest pain or shortness of breath always seek emergency care, since there is no way to distinguish broken heart syndrome from a heart attack by symptoms alone.

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask you about your medical history. They will order an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to measure the heart’s electrical activity and may order other tests, such as blood tests, a coronary angiogram, echocardiogram, chest X-ray, or other imaging studies.

They will use these test results to distinguish your symptoms from those of a heart attack. An EKG will show changes to the heart’s electrical activity, but these are not the same as the changes seen during a heart attack. Blood tests show no damage to the heart and other tests will confirm that the arteries of the heart are not blocked.

How is Broken Heart Syndrome Treated?

Initial treatments usually include those used for a heart attack, because it can be difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Once the diagnosis is made, medications such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, diuretics, or anti-anxiety medications may be given to relieve symptoms.