What Is a Broken Heart Syndrome?

07.08.2017

The broken heart syndrome is a condition that mimics a heart attack and strikes due to a ‘broken heart’.

The broken heart syndrome is a condition that mimics a heart attack and strikes due to a ‘broken heart’. Doctors may refer to it as stress cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It can affect anyone, even a completely healthy person.

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Broken heart syndrome is more common among women than men. Women are more likely to experience this intense and sudden pain located in the chest, usually caused by an emotional reaction or intense stress.

Losing a loved one, betrayal, a divorce or even a romantic rejection and breakup can lead to broken heart syndrome.

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome

The signs of broken heart syndrome are very similar to those of a heart attack, thus, often being misdiagnosed.

Common signs and symptoms of a broken heart syndrome are:

•    chest pain (angina) that starts from the heart and radiates outwards to the entire chest

•    shortness of breath due to the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to the myocardium causing difficulty pumping

•    cardiac arrhythmia because some parts of the heart may fail to pump while others continue as usual, perhaps even pumping more forcefully

As you can see from the symptoms above, they are very similar to those experienced by someone having a heart attack. In fact, broken heart syndrome can even lead to a cardiogenic shock if the heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to other parts and organs of the body. Many people may also experience chronic fatigue, a loss of appetite and more.

It is a fatal symptom when broken heart syndrome occurs, and it is important to have the individual taken to a hospital ASAP.

What are the differences with a heart attack?

Even though they are very similar, it is important to distinguish a broken heart syndrome from a heart attack, and there are several distinctions.

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No previous history of cardiovascular problems or risk factors

People who suffer from heart attacks usually have markers that can be used to point at the problem. Previous heart problems, even a previous heart attack puts the person at risk of subsequent attacks, but this is not seen in someone who suffered broken heart syndrome. Neither do they have any risk factors like obesity, it can occur in a perfectly healthy person.

No damage to the heart

A heart attack leaves portions of the heart muscles damaged, especially if the attack lasted for a long time. This happens because the heart muscles become deprived of oxygen and begin to die.

With broken heart syndrome, however, there is no damage to the heart muscles. The same is true for the coronary arteries, which are damaged after a heart attack, but not due to broken heart syndrome. This means that recovery time for the victim is usually shorter compared to one who had a heart attack.

For the latter, it can take several months before the heart fully recovers, but you can bounce back in days from broken heart syndrome.

Identifiable trigger

A heart attack can strike at any moment and without any particular trigger. It’s easy to identify the cause of broken heart syndrome, usually an emotionally stressful event.

What causes broken heart syndrome?

How exactly broken heart syndrome happens is still not known, but the trigger is known to be stress.

The stress could come from emotional events such as:

•    shocking news like a dire medical diagnosis or the death of a loved one

•    intense fear, for example, performing in public

•    surprises like a surprise party or losing/winning the lottery

All these are situations that raise stress hormones. They are believed to cause the constriction of the heart’s small arteries which eventually lead to broken heart syndrome.

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Diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose the problem several tests can be done to check the heart’s health. First of all, as mentioned a heart attack and other heart problems should be ruled out.

Based on various test and examinations other heart problems are ruled out and the diagnosis of a broken heart syndrome is confirmed. These tests are for example ECG, blood tests, echocardiography, coronary angiography, cardiac MRI, etc.

If the heart appears normal, it may indicate a broken heart syndrome. The condition usually disappears without any medication, on its own.  In general, this condition is fully recoverable within a couple of weeks. There is always a very low risk of recurrence. Rarely, a broken heart syndrome can be fatal and lead to death.

The most important thing when treating a broken heart syndrome is by trying to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Eliminating and avoiding stress as much as possible is very important. Seeking medical help from professionals is also recommended when dealing with the loss of a love, divorce, etc. Support groups are also very helpful.

Sharing your problems, you are experiencing with other peoples who are currently dealing with the same problems can help you get back on the track and start living again. Taking sufficient time to grief is also very important. 

Article last time updated on 04.12.2017.

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