Broken heart syndrome is a temporary condition that is brought on by a stressful event such as the death of a loved one. It is caused by the heart’s reaction to a surge of stress hormones. Broken heart syndrome is also variously called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, apical ballooning syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy by doctors.
Broken heart syndrome affects more women than men; more than 90% of cases reported thus far are in women. It appears that women 50 years or older are more susceptible to it since it is especially more common after menopause. It appears that about 2% of people, who seem to be having a heart attack, actually have broken heart syndrome. Among women, the number may be higher than 5%.
The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is not known but it is thought to be caused by a sudden surge of stress hormone such as adrenaline, which might temporarily damage the heart of some people. Due to this, a temporary constriction of large or small arteries of the heart results, causing the symptoms of the syndrome.
Broken heart syndrome is mostly preceded by an intense physical or emotional event. Some potential triggers are mentioned below:
- News of the unexpected death of a loved one
- A frightening medical diagnosis
- Domestic abuse
- Losing a lot of money
- Natural disasters
- Job loss
- Physical stressors, such as an asthma attack, a car accident or major surgery
Rarely, some drugs may cause the syndrome because of the sudden surge of stress hormones. Drugs that may cause the syndrome include:
- Epinephrine, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions,
- Venlafaxine, which is used to treat depression,
- Levothyroxine, which is used to treat underactive thyroid glands, and
- Duloxetine, which is used to treat nerve problems in diabetics or depression.
In a study, recently published in March 2016 in the European Heart Journal, it has been found for the first time that some patients have developed the condition after a happy or joyful event. And that is why they have named it “Happy heart syndrome”. The researchers believe that broken heart syndrome is a classic example of an intertwined feedback mechanism, involving the psychological and/or physical stimuli, the brain and the cardiovascular system. Perhaps both happy and sad life events, while inherently distinct, share final common pathways in the central nervous system output, which ultimately lead to the condition.
In a recent study published in the Europian Heart Journal, the researchers have found for the first time that the brain is involved in the development of a heart condition called Broken Heart syndrome. They found that regions of the brain responsible for processing emotions and controlling the unconscious workings of the body, such as heartbeat, breathing, and digestion, do not communicate with each other as well in such patients as in healthy people.
In a recent study by the German Center for Cardiovascular Research, it has been shown that physical stress seems to be more dangerous than emotional stress in triggering a broken heart syndrome. Furthermore, the physical stress as a trigger considerably worsens the prognosis in both women and men.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of stress in people's lives across the world. People are not only worried about becoming ill, they are also dealing with economic and emotional issues, and potential loneliness. This has brought a significant increase in the number of patients of broken heart syndrome.
During an episode of the condition, the heart muscle is so affected that the heart cannot pump out blood to the body strongly enough. As a result, a person may develop heart failure. It can be life threatening as well. Most people who experience broken heart syndrome think that they may be having a heart attack. The symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Arm pain
To diagnose it, an angiogram is usually performed. This provides images of the major blood vessels that supply the heart. During a heart attack, one or more arteries are often blocked. But during broken heart syndrome, these blood vessels look OK.
Your doctor is likely also to perform an Electrocardiogram. This takes pictures of the heart, which may reveal the tell-tale fishing pot shape, called tako-tsubo by Japanese that is used for catching sea creatures. And this is why the condition is also called tako-tsubo cardiomyopathy.
In broken heart syndrome, the heart muscle usually recovers fairly quickly but neither is often the case with after a major heart attack.
In broken heart syndrome, a critically ill patient needs to be admitted in a hospital but the recovery is quick. The patient admitted today will be preparing to go home after 2 to 3 days after a remarkable recovery. Afterward, people may need to take some medication especially for anxiety or any other accompanying medical condition, if any, for a specific period of time.
The bottom line –
It’s just been a couple of decades that doctors began recognizing and diagnosing the condition of broken heart syndrome. It is not as benign a condition as thought originally. It appears that people with other medical conditions like obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, and smoking are more likely to experience broken heart syndrome. People, who do not have medical conditions other than heart failure, survive more. This indicates that otherwise healthy people are likely to recover from broken heart syndrome even if they have heart failure along with it.
So, it can be concluded that the condition of broken heart syndrome should be taken seriously as a concomitant medical condition, if any, may worsen it.
- Deutsches Zentrum für Herz-Kreislauf-Forschung (DZHK). "Broken heart: Physical stress is a risk factor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170620094549.htm>.
- European Society of Cardiology. "'Broken heart' syndrome may originate in the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190304195238.htm>.
- Cleveland Clinic. "Researchers find rise in broken heart syndrome during COVID-19 pandemic: Broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, occurs in response to stressful events." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 July 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200709141603.htm>.
Dr Pran Rangan (author) from Kanpur (UP), India on December 09, 2015:
Thanks Denise for your comments. I am happy to know that you have found my hub useful.
Thanks Dana for your nice comments. Broken heart syndrome is definitely more common in women because they are emotionally more sensitive.
Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on December 09, 2015:
I have heard that the "broken heart" syndrome was a medical condition, but I didn't know the name of it. I am sure the statistics are higher in women than in men. I may have had this myself, although, I never have been treated for it.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on December 09, 2015:
Wow! This is really interesting. I didn't know that such a thing existed in the medical world. It makes sense, though, and tells us that if we are having these types of symptoms, we had better get to a medical facility quickly!