How is broken heart syndrome diagnosed?

Diagnostic tests include:

  • Physical exam and a review of the patient’s medical history.
  • An EKG (electrocardiogram) to measure the heart’s electrical activity.
  • Coronary angiography (uses dye and a type of X-ray to get a picture inside the heart’s arteries).
  • Echocardiography (uses sound waves to create moving images of the heart’s pumping action).
  • Chest X-ray (analyzes the structure of the heart, lungs and blood vessels).
  • Cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) (produces both still and moving pictures of the heart).
  • Ventriculogram (uses a dye injected into the heart’s left ventricle to take X-rays that will show the size and pumping efficiency of this chamber in the heart).

Based on test results, a number of clues help differentiate broken heart syndrome from a heart attack:

  • Symptoms of broken heart syndrome appear suddenly, following a stressful event.
  • An EKG will show the heart’s electrical activity is not normal but is not the same as the changes seen during a heart attack.
  • Blood tests show no damage to the heart.
  • The arteries of the heart are not blocked.
  • The left ventricle (lower left chamber of the heart) shows enlargement and unusual contractions that are not present in a heart attack.
  • Cardiac biomarkers (substances released into the blood when the heart is damaged or stressed) are higher than normal, but are not as high as when having a heart attack.

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