Yes, There’s Such a Thing as Broken Heart Syndrome

Couple holding broken heart

For some individuals, a broken heart can actually lead to heart failure. It’s only been several decades since the discovery of takotsubo cardiomyopathy, commonly known as broken heart syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy. Doctors didn’t take it as seriously as other heart problems at first even if its warning signs are similar to a heart attack, which can be very serious, even life-threatening.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA) individuals with underlying health conditions such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes and dyslipidemia have an increased risk of developing the disease.

What Exactly is Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy?

It was in 1991 in Japan that takotsubo cardiomyopathy was first discovered. In individuals with this condition, a part of their heart muscle, mainly in the left ventricle, suddenly stops working and causes acute heart failure. A common marker of the condition is the significant ballooning effect in the left ventricle, which is said to look like a takotsubo or octopus trap, hence the name.

This heart condition is more common in women, with only 10% of cases involving men. With proper treatment at a clinic specializing in cardiology in St. George, it’s generally short-lived, with normal heart function returning within a couple of days or weeks. Left untreated, however, it can be fatal.

Symptoms and Causes of Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy

In most cases, broken heart syndrome is triggered by sudden and extreme physical stress and emotional trauma including unexpected news, such as a death in the family, armed robbery, domestic abuse and surprise parties. Common warning signs occur abruptly and are similar to an acute heart attack. These include dyspnea, shortness of breath and severe chest pain.

While the exact cause of takotsubo cardiomyopathy has yet to be determined, a majority of experts point to an abnormal response to stress following emotional and physical trauma. Some studies have also found that it might be associated with microvascular angina, which is a result of constricted tiny blood vessels or microvessels inside the heart muscle. It might also be associated with coronary artery spasm.

couple holding billboard sign with break love heart

Diagnosing Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy

Individuals with takotsubo cardiomyopathy typically have abnormal ECG test results. But to diagnose the heart condition effectively, doctors will also do an angiogram for ruling out obstructed arteries. Doctors will also utilize a CT scan or MRI for inspecting the left ventricle to see if it’s ballooning out like a takotsubo.

Treating Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy

Standard treatment for broken heart syndrome includes heart failure medicines including diuretics, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. Aspirin might also be given to individuals who suffer from plaque buildup in their artery walls (atherosclerosis). Likewise, while there’s limited evidence regarding long-term treatment, alpha and beta blockers might be taken indeterminately to prevent the condition from reoccurring. It’s also very crucial to ease any emotional or physical trauma that might have triggered the condition.

Fortunately, with proper and timely treatment the condition will resolve itself in several days or weeks. So if you feel that your heart is broken — it just might be, literally — don’t hesitate to seek medical help right away.