Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (broken heart syndrome)

What is takotsubo cardiomyopathy?

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome”, is a temporary heart condition caused generally by emotional stress. It occurs when the left ventricle weakens and stops pumping blood properly.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can be quite similar to those of a heart attack, and can include:

  • chest pain
  • breathlessness
  • palpitation
  • nausea
  • dizziness or fainting

It’s always essential to seek urgent medical help if you get the symptoms listed above. These symptoms can be life-threatening even if they are not a heart attack.

How is takotsubo cardiomyopathy diagnosed?

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is diagnosed with a number of tests, including:

What causes takotsubo cardiomyopathy?

Broken heart syndrome is mainly associated with the emotional stress of a relationship break-up or grief, but it can occur as the result of any highly-stressful event, such as:

  • a car accident
  • surgery
  • domestic abuse or physical assault
  • financial stress
  • an asthma attack
  • a natural disaster

It can even occur after intensely happy events such as a wedding, new job, winning the lottery, or surprise party.

You’re more at risk of experiencing takotsubo cardiomyopathy if:

  • you are a woman
  • you are over the age of 50
  • you have a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression
  • you have a neurological condition such as epilepsy

How is takotsubo cardiomyopathy treated?

Treatment is similar to a heart attack and you’ll be monitored in hospital until symptoms clear. Your symptoms should continue to improve in the weeks and months after the event. During this time you may be prescribed blood-thinning medication to reduce the pressure on your heart.

In the long term, you may benefit from:

  • beta blockers to help reduce the impact of stress on your heart
  • follow-up care to manage long-term complications such as heart failure or heart rhythm problems
  • counselling to tackle the root causes of your stress

Which type of specialist treats takotsubo cardiomyopathy?

A cardiologist will assess you in the first instance and monitor you while symptoms clear. Afterwards, you might be referred to a psychotherapist to help you with the emotional problems which caused the symptoms in the first place.

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