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Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy – Broken Heart Syndrome

Can you really suffer from a broken heart?

Well….it’s complicated.

Often, when we think of broken hearts, we think of an image of a heart split into two jagged pieces. In real life, a broken heart may not necessarily be a cause of death, but it can certainly have serious cardiovascular implications.

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a temporary heart condition that was first described in 1990 in Japan. This heart condition is characterized by a weakening of the left ventricle (the heart’s main pumping chamber), caused by severe emotional or physical stress, such as the death of a loved one, sudden illness or natural disaster.

In Japanese “tako-tsubo” translates to “fishing pot for trapping octopus” as the left ventricle of patients diagnosed with this condition resembles that shape [source].

Because takotsubo cardiomyopathy is usually triggered by acute (intense) emotional stress, it is also known as “stress cardiomyopathy” or “broken heart syndrome”.

Signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome include: chest pains, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias). If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor right away.


6 Quick Facts About Broken Heart Syndrome:

  1. Is a reversible heart condition.
  2. It occurs almost exclusively in women (more than 90% of cases).
  3. The condition usually reverses itself in days or weeks.
  4. The root cause is unclear.
  5. It usually affects people over the age of 50.
  6. It is rare that broken heart syndrome is fatal.

Risk Factors & Causes

According to Harvard Medical School, the following are some examples of known stressors associated with takotsubo cardiomyopathy:

  • Sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Serious illness, surgery or medical procedure
  • Domestic violence
  • Asthma attack
  • Receiving bad news
  • Unexpected loss, illness, injury of loved one
  • Fierce argument
  • Intense fear
  • Public speaking
  • And more

Stuffed heart with Band-Aids in doctors hand

Broken Heart Syndrome vs. Heart Attack – What’s the Difference?

Heart attacks are generally caused by partial to complete blockages in your heart’s arteries.

In the case of broken heart syndrome, there is typically no blockage in the arteries. However, blood flow in your arteries may be reduced.

According to the American Heart Association, other differences include:

  • EKG results will look different for someone who has suffered a heart attack.
  • Blood tests will reveal no signs of heart damage in someone who has broken heart syndrome.
  • Tests will show ballooning and/or unusual movement in the lower left heart chamber in someone with broken heart syndrome.

Pay Attention to Your Heart Health

You can’t always avoid stress in your life, but you can take steps to better manage it. Be sure to get regular exercise and plenty of rest. Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, and engage in activities that are relaxing and enjoyable, such as volunteering with a local charity or spending time with friends and family.

While there is currently no standard form of treatment for broken heart syndrome, your heart doctor will likely follow a treatment similar to heart attack until a definitive diagnosis can be made.

Learn more about heart & vascular care at WakeMed and schedule an appointment with one of our heart & vascular physicians today.