Broken heart syndrome (takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is a sudden weakness in your heart muscle. This happens right after a physically or emotionally stressful event. The condition can last a few days or weeks. With medicine, most people recover completely.
Broken heart syndrome is a short-term condition where some of your heart muscle weakens rapidly. This typically happens after a sudden physical or emotional stressor. When part of your heart isn’t working well, the other parts may work harder.
Weak heart muscle can disrupt your heart’s supply of blood and its ability to pump. If your heart isn’t pumping well, that harms your whole body. Every cell in your body relies on the steady supply of oxygen that your blood carries.
There are many other names for, and types of, broken heart syndrome, including:
The four different types of broken heart syndrome are:
Broken heart syndrome occurs in about 2% of people who visit a provider for a suspected heart attack. But researchers believe the true number of cases is higher because providers often don’t recognize the condition.
One possible explanation is that the hormone estrogen protects your heart against any harmful effects of hormones your body releases in response to stress. As the level of estrogen declines with age, people AFAB might be more susceptible to the effects of sudden stress.
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You may feel broken heart syndrome symptoms within minutes up to hours after the stressful event. The release of stress hormones temporarily stuns your heart muscle, producing symptoms similar to a typical heart attack.
Signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome include:
Because broken heart syndrome has symptoms like those of a heart attack, you may think you’re having one. Both conditions cause shortness of breath and chest pain. But with broken heart syndrome, you don’t have blocked coronary arteries and typically don’t have permanent heart damage. And you usually make a fast and full recovery.
Researchers can’t pinpoint broken heart syndrome causes, but they believe a stressful event like a divorce, car accident or job loss can cause it. When you react to physical or emotional stress, your body releases stress hormones in your blood. Experts think that these hormones temporarily interfere with your heart’s function.
A small percentage of people with broken heart syndrome (takotsubo cardiomyopathy) can’t identify any stressors that may have triggered their episode.
There’s no evidence to suggest that a parent can pass broken heart syndrome down to their children.
Examples of sudden emotional stressors include:
Examples of sudden physical stressors include:
You’re more likely to get broken heart syndrome if:
Broken heart syndrome complications are rare, but may include:
A healthcare provider will complete a physical exam and review your medical history. Then, they may order several tests, like:
Imaging can show damaged heart areas, but you need coronary angiography to help rule out a heart attack. Unlike a heart attack, broken heart syndrome doesn’t involve blocked arteries in your heart.
Although there’s no cure for broken heart syndrome (takotsubo cardiomyopathy), most people make a full recovery after taking medicine.
Medications for broken heart syndrome treatment include:
In general, some of the possible side effects of takotsubo cardiomyopathy treatment include:
Most people with broken heart syndrome start to feel better as they receive treatment. That can happen while you’re in the hospital or within hours or days of receiving treatment.
There are no known ways to prevent broken heart syndrome. However, learning stress management and problem-solving techniques can help you limit physical and emotional stress.
Relaxation techniques can also be helpful. Some examples include:
Depending on the source of your stress, you may be able to join a support group to talk about your stress and share coping skills. A professional counselor can help, too.
In addition, healthy habits can help you manage physical or emotional stress. These habits include:
Broken heart syndrome (takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is a temporary condition for most people. You’ll likely recover without any long-term heart problems.
If an ongoing health problem — like stroke, asthma or seizures — triggered your broken heart syndrome event, check with your healthcare provider for help managing these health issues.
In some cases, your provider may want to do a follow-up echocardiogram about four to six weeks after your event. They’ll want to make sure you don’t have any heart health problems and the left ventricle of your heart is working normally again.
People usually make a full recovery a few days to a few weeks after a stress-induced event. But many people have low energy levels for months after getting broken heart syndrome. This can lead to depression. If this happens to you, be sure to ask your provider for help.
People who get broken heart syndrome from a medical issue (like illness or surgery) tend to have a worse outcome than those who get the condition from an emotional event.
Although people assigned male at birth (AMAB) are less likely to have broken heart syndrome, they’re more likely to have a worse prognosis. This is due to having critical illnesses.
Researchers have linked taking ACE inhibitors or ARBs with better survival.
It’s unlikely that you’ll die from broken heart syndrome. Estimates of death from it range from 0% to 8%. In most cases, broken heart syndrome is a temporary condition with a full recovery.
You may need to keep taking prescribed medicines for three to six months. If you have broken heart syndrome, the best thing to do to take care of yourself is to take your medication and see your provider as recommended. These are both important because of the long-term risks that come with takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
You can get broken heart syndrome again or have other health problems weeks or years after the first event. The condition happens again in 4% to 10% of people who have it.
Contact your provider if you notice any new symptoms or changes in existing symptoms, especially if they affect your normal routine. Otherwise, your provider will schedule follow-up appointments as needed.
Because broken heart syndrome shares symptoms with a heart attack, you should go to a hospital if you have any heart attack symptoms. Those include:
If you have any of the symptoms of broken heart syndrome (takotsubo cardiomyopathy), seek emergency care. Tests are the only way to know if you’re experiencing broken heart syndrome, a heart attack or another medical issue.
Questions you may want to ask your provider include:
Most likely, no. Symptoms start after a sudden or extremely stressful event. If you have frequent chest pain or shortness of breath when facing day-to-day moderate stress, see your healthcare provider.
Ongoing symptoms are usually not a sign of broken heart syndrome. Your provider can help you figure out how to cope with stress, prescribe medication if anxiety is a problem, or order tests if they suspect an undiagnosed health problem.
Rarely, yes. People whose condition is severe or unstable will need close monitoring and more advanced types of care, like mechanical support devices.
Depending on how weak your heart muscle is, your healthcare provider may also recommend cardiac rehabilitation.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s common to hear people talk about a “broken heart” when they’re talking about their emotions. But broken heart syndrome (also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy) is real and can happen after sudden emotional or physical stressors affect you.
The good news is that it’s a temporary condition that usually doesn’t cause any permanent heart damage. But because its symptoms are like those of a heart attack, never try to self-diagnose and convince yourself that you have broken heart syndrome. Always get checked at an emergency care center. Only tests can determine if your heart symptoms are a heart attack, broken heart syndrome or some other health issue.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/21/2023.
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