What is Broken Heart Syndrome?
When you think of a broken heart, you may picture a drawing of a heart with a jagged line running through it, in reality, broken heart syndrome does exist, with studies continuously finding connections between depression, mental health and heart disease.
Broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a temporary heart condition that’s often brought on by an emotionally stressful event, such as the death of a loved one, a break-up, betrayal, hearing bad news or even after a good shock (like winning the lottery)!
When and What Happens
The condition can strike even if you are healthy, but could also be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. In rare cases, some drugs such as epinephrine and levothyroxine can cause broken heart syndrome by inducing a surge in stress hormones, which affects the heart, with women being more susceptible to this effect than men.
People with broken heart syndrome often have shortness of breath and sudden chest pain that could be misdiagnosed as a heart attack. These symptoms can begin just a few minutes to hours after exposure to the unexpected stress.
How BHS Differs from a Heart Attack
Unlike heart attacks, most people who experience broken heart syndrome have fairly normal coronary arteries (blood vessels that supply the heart with blood), only their heart cells are “stunned” by stress hormones but not killed. The “stunning” effects reverse quickly, often within just a few days or weeks. In most cases, there is no lasting damage to the heart, unlike with heart attacks.
Because symptoms are similar to a heart attack, it is important to seek help right away. You, and sometimes emergency-care providers, may not be able to recognize that you have broken heart syndrome until you undergo some tests. All kinds of chest pain should be checked by a doctor.
How BHS is Diagnosed & Treatment
There is no standard treatment for broken heart syndrome, initial treatment is aimed at improving blood flow to the heart, and may be similar to the treatment of a heart attack until the diagnosis is clear. Most people stay in the hospital while they recover. Further treatment can include medicines that relieve fluid buildup, treat blood pressure problems, prevent blood clots, and manage stress hormones. Medicines are often discontinued once heart function has returned to normal. Many patients make a full recovery within a month or so.
Procedures that are often used to treat a heart attack, such as balloon angioplasty and stent placement, or even surgery, aren’t helpful in treating broken heart syndrome. These procedures treat blocked arteries, which are not the cause of broken heart syndrome
Changing Your Lifestyle & Prevention
Lifestyle change is also advised, it’s important to find ways to reduce stress and cope with particularly upsetting situations. Learning how to manage stress can improve your emotional and physical health.
Having supportive people in your life with whom you can share your feelings or concerns can help relieve stress. Physical activity, meditation and relaxation therapy also can help relieve stress.