Dying of a broken heart sounds very much like a drama we usually see played out in movies and TV shows, but stress cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, is not only very real, it can also potentially be deadly.
Stress cardiomyopathy, also known as takotsubo syndrome, is a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber. 'Takotsubo' means 'octopus trap' in Japanese. Takotsubo syndrome was so named because the left main chamber of the stricken heart is thought to resemble an octopus trap.
Its popular term 'broken heart syndrome' was coined when researchers found that people suffering from the condition were usually under severe emotional stress, such as grief over the loss of a loved one.
Although the cause of broken heart syndrome is still unclear, theories point to stress as the main culprit. Triggers include receiving bad news, unexpected illness, the loss of a loved one, a serious accident, or a natural disaster such as an earthquake. Besides emotional stress, it can also be triggered by physical stress like asthma or low blood sugar.
Theories suggest that a stressful event can trigger a 'fight or flight' mechanism in the nervous system which then releases a large amount of adrenaline, causing the heart to be stunned and unable to pump blood properly. That’s why the condition is also called stress cardiomyopathy.
So how do you know if you are suffering from stress cardiomyopathy?
Studies have shown that there are 4 main symptoms of broken heart syndrome:
So far, there isn't a standard treatment for stress cardiomyopathy. People suffering from this condition usually undergo similar treatments for heart attacks until doctors get a clear diagnosis.
Patients are usually prescribed heart medication like angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta-blockers or diuretics that help reduce the workload on your heart while you recover.
Preventive heart screening is an effective way to identify hidden heart health risks.