What is broken heart syndrome?

Broken heart syndrome is a group of symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, occurring in response to a physical or emotional stress. Most people affected by broken heart syndrome think they are having a heart attack because symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, are similar in both conditions. However, those with broken heart syndrome do not have blocked coronary arteries, and usually make a fast and full recovery.

Broken heart syndrome is also called Takotusubo cardiomyopathy and stress-induced cardiomyopathy, meaning that stress has caused dysfunction or failure of the heart muscle.

How common is broken heart syndrome?

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States in 2007 would have a myocardial infarction (an interruption of blood supply to the heart). About 1 percent of this estimate, or 12,000 people would have experienced broken heart syndrome.

Who is affected by broken heart syndrome?

Women are more prone than men to experience the symptoms of broken heart syndrome, particularly Asian and Caucasian postmenopausal women. Often a person experiencing broken heart syndrome has shown no sign of heart disease, and has been previously healthy.

What causes broken heart syndrome?

The cause of broken heart syndrome is not fully understood. In most cases, symptoms are brought on by emotional or physical stress such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, the breakup of a romantic relationship, an asthma attack, an exhausting physical event, or even happy occurrences such as a surprise, a reunion, or being a big lottery winner. A person’s reaction to such events causes a release of stress hormones (catecholamines) that temporarily reduce the effectiveness of the heart’s pumping action, or cause it to contract too forcefully or wildly instead of in a steady pattern.

What are the symptoms of broken heart syndrome?

Symptoms may occur within minutes or not until hours after a stressful situation, and are similar to those of a heart attack. Emergency care should always be sought when experiencing these symptoms, since there is no way to determine their cause without proper testing and diagnosis by a doctor. Symptoms include the following:

  • Angina (sudden, severe chest pain)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmia (irregular beating of the heart)
  • Cardiogenic shock (An inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s demands. The impact of stress hormones “stuns” the cells of the heart, causing them to malfunction. These effects usually wear off within a few days or at most weeks, and there is no lasting heart damage.)
  • Fainting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart failure