Atlanta, Ga. (February 13, 2013) – Valentine’s Day isn’t always about happy couples. Plenty of single and heart-broken people would rather forget the holiday even exists. Interestingly, broken hearts affect more than for those who are suffering through a recent break up. In fact, a condition called broken heart syndrome actually exists.
Originally known as takosubo cardiomyopathy, broken heart syndrome is relatively common. People with this syndrome often see their doctor for chest pains, believing they might be having a heart attack. The chest pains, however, are not caused by clogged arteries; they are the result of severe emotional stress.
“Patients come in with symptoms similar to a heart attack, but did not have the typical blocked arteries that we see with a heart attack,” said Kenneth Taylor, M.D., chief of the Advanced Heart Failure Center at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. “However, their hearts did ‘balloon’ out and look like a big, round ball, which is reminiscent of something the Japanese used to catch octopi, which is takosubo, or ‘octopus pot.’”
Dr. Taylor says that broken heart syndrome is more common than most people realize, mostly seen in post-menopausal women, or women ages 60 and older, who often have some sort of stressful event in their life, regardless of whether it’s an emotional or physical stressor.
“There is a lot of debate about what actually causes this syndrome and we still don’t really know what causes it,” said Dr. Taylor. “Most people believe it is a ‘stunning’ of the heart from too much adrenaline.”
In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that 71 percent of the study’s participants had experienced an emotional or physical stressor just 48 hours earlier. However, the study’s authors noted that it is possible to experience this condition in the absence of a stressful event.
“What researchers found was consistent with what we have seen in previous literature: the fact that there isn’t any heart muscle damage, and the fact that the majority of patients get better with very few having bad outcomes,” said Dr. Taylor. “If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, you need to come to the hospital immediately and if your actual diagnosis is broken heart syndrome, then you have a very favorable prognosis.”
Symptoms of broken heart syndrome include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness and an irregular heartbeat. Potential triggers include abuse, death of a loved one, an upsetting medical diagnosis, financial difficulty, a surprise party, public speaking, a car accident, major surgery or an asthma attack.
For more information about the Advanced Heart Failure Center at Piedmont Atlanta, visit piedmontheart.org.