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February is often referred to as the month of love. This is usually dedicated to loved ones, families and self-love. It is however also associated with some heartbreak for some individuals. This reminded me of a rather rare but fascinating condition referred to as “broken heart syndrome”.
Broken Heart Syndrome also known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that results in weakening of the left side of the heart due to severe physical or emotional stress. Some of these stressors can include; a loss of a loved one, a fierce argument, receiving bad news, intense fear, domestic violence or serious illness or surgery.
This condition was first described in Japan in the 90’s. The name Takotsubo is also of Japanese origin and refers to a pot used by Japanese fishermen to trap Octopuses. Individuals who develop this condition will have the left side of their hearts changing shape due to stressors and resembling this pot, hence the name. More than 90% of reported cases are in women ages 58 to 75. Research suggests that up to 5% of women suspected of having a heart attack have this disorder. Most people recover with no long-term heart damage.
The risk factors for developing this condition include being female. Being older than the age of 50 is also a risk factor. Individuals with hormonal imbalance either due to thyroid or adrenal disease. People who suffer from mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression have also been shown to be at an increased risk to develop this condition.
The symptoms of this condition often mimics that of a heart attack. The commonest presenting symptoms are chest pain and shortness of breath. To get a definitive diagnosis of this condition some special tests need to be done. This includes doing a heart scan (echocardiogram), which will show ballooning of the left side. Another investigation that can be done is a coronary angiogram which look at the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle. In Broken Heart syndrome there is no blockage of the coronary arteries, which is what differentiates it from a heart attack.
Broken heat syndrome rarely results in death. Most of the patients do recover within a month or so. However sometimes complications do occur. The complications include heart failure, irregular heartbeats, low blood pressure, blood clots in the heart and fluid backing up into the lungs. There is no standard treatment for this condition. In the initial phase it is managed as a heart attack as it is difficult to differentiate the two without any special investigations. Some blood pressure medications which reduce strain to the heart can be used to treat this condition.