Broken heart syndrome
Broken heart syndrome
Broken heart syndrome is a temporary heart condition brought on by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one. People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they're having a heart attack. These broken heart syndrome symptoms may be brought on by the heart's reaction to a surge of stress hormones. In broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart temporarily enlarges and doesn't pump well, while the remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions.
The condition was originally called takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Today, it's also referred to as stress cardiomyopathy, stress-induced cardiomyopathy or apical ballooning syndrome.
The symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and the condition usually reverses itself in about a week.
Broken heart syndrome symptoms can mimic a heart attack. Common symptoms include:
Any long-lasting or persistent chest pain could be a sign of a heart attack, so it's important to take it seriously and call 911 if you experience chest pain.
When to see a doctor
The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear. It's thought that a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might temporarily damage the hearts of some people. How these hormones might hurt the heart or whether something else is responsible isn't completely clear. A temporary constriction of the large or small arteries of the heart may play a role.
Broken heart syndrome is often preceded by an intense physical or emotional event. Some potential triggers of broken heart syndrome are:
How is broken heart syndrome different from a heart attack?
Broken heart syndrome affects women far more often than men. It appears that most people who have broken heart syndrome are women 50 or older.
In rare cases, broken heart syndrome is fatal. However, most who experience broken heart syndrome quickly recover and don't have long-lasting effects.
Other complications of broken heart syndrome include:
It's also possible that you may have broken heart syndrome again if you have another stressful event.
Preparing for your appointment
Broken heart syndrome is almost always diagnosed in an emergency or hospital setting, since most people with the condition have symptoms identical to a heart attack.
Call 911 or emergency medical help or have someone drive you to an emergency room if you experience new or unexplained chest pain or pressure that lasts for more than a few moments. Don't waste any time for fear of embarrassment if it's not a heart attack. Even if there's another cause for your chest pain, you need to be seen right away.
Have a family member or friend come with you, if possible. Someone who accompanies you can help soak up all the information provided during your evaluation.
Share this information on the way to the hospital:
Once you're at the hospital, it's likely that your medical evaluation will move ahead rapidly. Based on results from an electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood tests, your doctor may be able to quickly determine if you are having a heart attack — or give you another explanation for your symptoms. You'll probably have a number of questions at this point. If you haven't received the following information, you may want to ask:
Don't hesitate to ask any additional questions that occur to you during your medical evaluation.
What to expect from the doctor
Tests and diagnosis
If your doctor suspects you have broken heart syndrome, he or she will use these exams and tests to make a diagnosis:
Treatments and drugs
There are no standard treatment guidelines for treating broken heart syndrome. Treatment is similar to treatment for a heart attack until the diagnosis is clear. Most people stay in the hospital while they recover.
Once it's clear that broken heart syndrome is the cause of your symptoms, your doctor will likely prescribe heart medications for you to take while you're in the hospital, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta blockers or diuretics. These medications help reduce the workload on your heart while you recover and may help prevent further attacks. Many patients make a full recovery within one to two months. Ask your doctor how long you will need to continue taking these medications once you recover.
Procedures that are often used to treat a heart attack, such as balloon angioplasty and stent placement, or even surgery, are not helpful in treating broken heart syndrome. These procedures treat blocked arteries, which are not the cause of broken heart syndrome. However, coronary angiography is often used to diagnose exactly what's the cause of the chest pain.
There's a chance that broken heart syndrome can happen again after a first episode. There's no proven therapy to prevent additional episodes; however, many doctors recommend long-term treatment with beta blockers or similar medications that block the potentially damaging effects of stress hormones on the heart. Managing stress in your life is also important.
Last Updated: 2011-02-10
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