Broken Heart Syndrome

1 What is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Broken heart syndrome, also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy, refers to the temporary weakening of the left ventricle caused by severe stress.

This condition is characterized by chest pain and shortness of breath, two symptoms that resemble a heart attack, so it is just a temporary obstruction of the normal functioning of the heart.

Blood flow to the arteries is also reduced, but there is no evidence of block in the blood vessels.

The symptoms of stress cardiomyopathy often begin within a few minutes to hours of exposure to stress or intense grief. It is more commonly found in women when compared to men. It is treatable and in most cases the condition is resolved within a few days or weeks.

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2 Symptoms

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome appear within a few minutes or hours of exposure to the trigger. The most common symptoms are sudden and sharp pain in the chest and shortness of breath.

As the condition is characterized by weakness of the heart muscles, some people may complain of fainting, arrhythmias, low blood pressure, and cardiogenic shock.

3 Causes

The actual cause of broken heart syndrome is not clear. A sudden and sharp increase in the stress hormones like adrenaline is implied in the temporary damage of the heart. Temporary narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart also may be involved in the development of this syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome is often triggered by intense grief or emotional stress, like:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Domestic abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Serious illness or medical diagnosis
  • An accident
  • Fierce argument
  • Financial or job loss
  • Strained relationships
  • Physical stress like major surgery or asthma attack
  • Sudden surprise
  • Intense fear of something
  • Public speaking

Certain medications that cause a sudden surge in stress hormones may also lead to broken heart syndrome. This includes:

  • Epinephrine shots
  • Duloxetine
  • Venlafaxine
  • Levothyroxine

4 Making A Diagnosis

A number of tests and procedures help in the diagnosis of broken heart syndrome. Review of medical history and stress triggers help to identify the causes and chances of broken heart syndrome.

Irregularities in the heart rhythm and structure are diagnosed by ECG. Enlargement of the left ventricle is visible in a chest X-ray. It also helps to rule out the chances of other conditions that result in similar symptoms.

Echocardiogram is also used to visualize the abnormal shape of the heart. Blood tests are used to measure enzymes whose levels are increased in this syndrome.

In coronary angiogram, a dye is injected into the blood vessel. Series of images produced by an x-ray show the details of the blood vessels that supply heart.

5 Treatment

Until a diagnosis of broken heart syndrome is confirmed, the standard procedure for treating a heart attack is followed.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta blockers, and diuretics are recommended to reduce the strain on the heart. It helps to prevent further attack and also to recover soon. Most of the abnormalities in the heart clear up within a few weeks. Most patients recover fully within two months.

6 Prevention

Keeping heart muscles healthy and strong is the best way to prevent episodes of broken heart syndrome. Long-term treatment with beta blockers help to prevent the recurrence of this condition. Managing stress is also important in preventing broken heart syndrome.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Ignatia, natrum muriatricum, staph, and aconite are usually prescribed as homeopathic remedies to control symptoms of broken heart syndrome. Breathing exercises and relaxation techniques are the best way to control abnormalities in heart rhythms.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with broken heart syndrome.

Since this condition is triggered by acute stress, it is important to manage any stress in your life.

Regularly practicing breathing exercises, relaxation techniques play an important role in improving your overall health.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with broken heart syndrome.

In some rare cases, broken heart syndrome may turn fatal.

It may lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs, sudden drop in blood pressure, and abnormalities in heartbeat.

Although the risk of recurrence is low, another emotionally stressful event may trigger another episode.

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