Broken Heart Syndrome

What is a Broken Heart Syndrome?

Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is a cardiovascular condition in which stressful situations can cause a person heart problems and subsequent circulatory issues. What happens when a person suffers from this condition is that they have a sudden or acute bout of heart trouble in reaction to a specific situation.

The heart’s normal pumping function is disrupted. Specifically, the left ventricle is affected and takes on an odd shape or structure. This prevents it from being able to properly pump blood out of the heart and can cause numerous problems. However, broken heart syndrome is considered to be a temporary or acute condition rather than a long-term cardiovascular disease.

Causes of broken heart syndrome are generally stressful situations such as a sudden death of a loved one, loss of employment, or a natural disaster.

A sudden large amount of stress hormones being released may also cause the heart to malfunction and disrupt the normal heart rhythm. There are some drugs like epinephrine and duloxetine (among a few others) that could cause broken heart syndrome.

What are the Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome?

When a person suffers from broken heart syndrome, the most common and noticeable symptoms are chest pain and shortness of breath. The chest pain may be severe and can be quite frightening to the person experiencing it and those around them. The heartbeat may become erratic or irregular and the person might also start sweating a great deal or feel arm pain.

Broken Heart Syndrome Causes

Also called Stress Cardiomyopathy, Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy and Apical Ballooning Syndrome, Broken Heart Syndrome’s specific cause is yet unknown. It is primarily triggered by inordinate emotional stress, which causes a temporary surge of stress hormones to be released in the body e.g. adrenaline and cortisol. Upsetting news, such as the death of a loved one or an unsettling medical diagnosis, a heated argument, the loss of a job, and divorce are examples of these triggers. Startling events, such as surprise parties, and fearful experiences, such as public speaking, can provide other triggers. Stressors can also be physical, such as accidents, other types of injuries, surgeries, or asthma attacks. Some drugs, which treat medical problems by introducing a surge of hormones in the body, may also cause Broken Heart Syndrome, including epinephrine (allergies or asthma), duloxetine (nervous problems or depression), veniafaxine (depression), and levothyroxine (thyroid problems).

How is a Broken Heart Syndrome Treated?

Generally, when a person suffers from broken heart syndrome, they will first get evaluated for a possible heart attack. Treatment often includes the use of medications to help slow the heart rate and relieve some of the pressure and strain from the heart. This can include beta blockers, diuretics, and the like. More often than not, medications, rest, and reducing stress can help to resolve broken heart syndrome. However, if a person is found to have other cardiovascular issues, they will need to be treated as well.

Broken Heart Syndrome Prevention

There is no definitive way to prevent Broken Heart Syndrome.

Although its onset or recurrence may be prevented by:

  • Seeking medical advice if you aren’t feeling well or if you have chronic pain
  • Taking medication, such as beta blockers, that stop the damage caused by a rush of stress hormones
  • Learning how to manage stress on a daily basis
  • Practicing daily relaxation techniques
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Keeping a regular sleep schedule and getting enough sleep each night
  • Taking sleep medication (as prescribed), if needed
  • Being aware that holiday times and family celebrations are common triggers, and managing your participation in these events to the extent you’re comfortable with them
  • Not starting to smoke as a remedy to try and ease stress, or quitting smoking if you’re already a smoker
  • Seeing a counselor for stress-management options or problems with grief
  • Expressing or sharing emotions instead of bottling them up inside
  • Adopting a positive attitude toward your life’s experiences
  • Surrounding yourself with a support system of family and friends
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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 21, 2017