The broken heart syndrome is on a rise. Here’s everything you need to know about it

Stressful events can legit break your heart by giving you stress cardiomyopathy or the broken heart syndrome.
broken heart syndrome
Here’s another reason why stress ain’t good for you. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Tilak Suvarna Updated: 13 Jun 2024, 12:32 pm IST
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Extreme stress and emotions can often make us sick, not only mentally but physically as well. Intense chest pain, which almost feels like a heart attack, is the most distinguishing symptom of broken heart syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome impacts the way our heart pumps blood. A part of the heart becomes enlarged and does not pump well, while the rest of the heart functions normally. There are many medications that must be prescribed in order to treat this condition. Read on to know more.

What is broken heart syndrome?

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as stress cardiomyopathy and broken heart syndrome, is a condition which mimics an acute heart attack in clinical presentation. First described in Japan in 1990, its name is derived from the Japanese word takotsubo which means an “octopus pot,” which refers to the resemblance of the shape of the heart to this pot.

Broken heart syndrome symptoms

The symptoms of broken heart syndrome mirror those of a heart attack. The patient will experience sudden severe chest pain or shortness of breath, states the American Heart Association. Electrocardiogram and blood tests also show abnormalities that are seen typically in a heart attack.

However, when the affected patient undergoes cardiac angiography, an X Ray to look at the heart’s blood vessels, no significant blockages or narrowing of the heart arteries are seen. Instead a typical ballooning of a portion of the heart cavity is seen, which is diagnostic of this condition.

broken heart syndrome
Take your work lightly as this stress might lead to broken heart syndrome. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Causes and risks of Broken Heart Syndrome

While broken heart syndrome can happen to anyone, there are a few causes and risks that can increase your chances.

1. Stress

The exact cause of this syndrome is not fully understood. It is also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy, and as the same suggests, in most of the cases the symptoms are triggered due to emotional or physical stress, states this study, published in the Journal of Research and Medical Sciences. These stressors could be any of the following: natural disasters, shock due to death of a close relative or friend, financial problems, personal trauma, accidents, surgery or a serious medical illness.

Unlike a typical heart attack, for which the peak occurrence is during the morning hours, takotsubo cardiomyopathy events are most prevalent in the afternoon, when stressful triggers are more likely to take place. Stress leads to release of adrenaline, which is toxic to the heart. It causes dysfunction or failure of the heart muscle in such patients. The exact mechanism is not known. Whether this is triggered by multiple levels of spasms in the heart arteries, formation of multiple clots in the heart arteries, or direct cardiac toxicity remains to be seen.

2. Age and gender

Your age and gender can also impact your chances of being effected by the broken heart syndrome. A study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA), suggests that middle-aged as well as older women are diagnosed with broken heart syndrome 10 times more than men, or younger women. Particularly, postmenopausal women of Asian and Caucasian descent are prone to the syndrome. While experts are still trying to find out why it is more prevalent in women, some studies point towards factors such as hormonal differences between the two sexes and variations in coronary arteries.

Broken heart syndrome Treatment

Since the broken heart syndrome mimics a typical heart attack, the approach to treatment of this condition is same which includes ICU admission, appropriate cardiac medications, management of complications if any, and undergoing a coronary angiography procedure, which usually clinches the diagnosis. These patients do not require angioplasty or heart bypass surgery.

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The good news is that such patients usually make a full and fast recovery. Nearly 95% of patients experience complete recovery within 4-8 weeks, though the death rate varies from one to three per cent.

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Can broken heart syndrome by prevented?

While there is no way to prevent broken heart syndrome, several lifestyle changes can be made to lower its chances. Fear and stress are normal reactions to perceived or real threats. Therefore, people are urged to learn stress-management and relaxation techniques for both physical and mental wellbeing. Unhealthy habits such as drinking, smoking, and binge eating should not be encouraged. Regular physical activity- be it a 15-30 minutes of aerobics exercise at home, and yoga and meditation for a peaceful mind should become the way of life.

Can you die from broken heart syndrome

Most of the people who are undergo broken heart syndrome, recover quickly. It usually does not lead to death. However, there is a chance that it can reoccur, or may take time to be cured. It all depends on the cause behind it. Hence, there must be appropriate changes made in your life to keep stress at bay.

Summary

A broken heart syndrome mimics the symptoms of a heart attack. Extreme stressful situations of emotional triggers can cause this, and the risk increases with age, especially for women.

 

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About the Author

Dr. Tilak Suvarna is a renowned Cardiologist and currently practices at Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai. For the past 37 years, Dr. Tilak Suvarna has worked as a Cardiology Doctor and gained proficient skills and knowledge in the segments. Dr. Tilak Suvarna pursued a degree of MBBS, MD-Internal Medicine and DNB - Cardiology. He is a well-known member of the Accreditation Committee, National Accreditation Board for Hospitals. ...Read More

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