Broken-heart syndrome aka Stress cardiomyopathy

Indians are not new to hearing of a broken heart. Haven’t we heard of them time and again in our movies and among our friends. But all of that was a way of expressing disappointment and betrayal. Now, what if it happened in real? In fact, it does and is called the Broken heart syndrome (in medical terms, stress cardiomyopathy).

stress cardiomyopathy

Broken heart syndrome / Stress cardiomyopathy

Used as a colloquial term for Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, it is a medical condition that is caused by stress. It is also known as the stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy was first identified in Japan. Since then, the same has been recognized in patient all over the world.

It was named ‘Takotsubo’, because of the similarity between the heart’s shape in this condition and the appearance of the Japanese fishermen’s octopus trap, called ‘takotsubo’.

stress cardiomyopathy

But what is cardio-myo-pathy? Cardio – meaning heart. Myo – meaning ‘related to muscle’. And pathy – meaning ‘pathological condition of’.

It is often a temporary problem. with symptoms of chest pain and tightness, almost like a heart attack. Most of the times, the triggers are stressful situations, like death of loved one. The fact that we use the same expression to describe our failed love relationships, tells us what it signifies. However, the condition has also been known to be triggered by physical illness and surgery.

What are the symptoms of this condition?

broken heart syndrome
Symptoms

The common symptoms of this condition are as follows:

  • Chest pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations (the sensation of your heart beating fast)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness

Other factors that can be observed are

  • Usually occur after situations involving severe stress (emotional or physical)
  • ECG (electrocardiogram) findings that can not be differentiated from those of a heart attack
  • No blockage noted on an angiography
  • ECHO (echo-cardiography) findings that show reduced function of the left ventricle
  • Ballooning of the left ventricle
  • Recovers most often within a month or two

However, though the condition is often temporary, at times, it is possible that it can life-threatening at the moment.

What happens to the heart, in this condition?

Does it actually break? Is there a tear? When i first heard of it, i actually had these thoughts. Funny, right? But then, the medical journals were saying that. So it could be possible i thought. Anyways, jokes apart, what actually happens is not breaking of the structure, but rather the function.

The basic function of the heart is to act as the main place to collect all the impure blood and send it to the lungs for purification and then receive the purified blood and then distribute it back to the entire body.

So, if we need to stay alive, we need this purification process happening without fail.

In any cardiomyopathy, the heart’s walls get affected. In this particular broken heart syndrome or stress induced cardiomyopathy, the walls of the left ventricle becomes weak. As a results, the heart is unable to pump out blood as strongly as it would usually do.

stress cardiomyopathy

In such a condition, the amount of blood that is pumped out, is far less and does not reach far enough. Just like any motor, that is used to pump fuel, water or liquid. So, as a result, we start feeling tired and breathless. When the heart tries to compensate this weakness by beating faster instead of stronger, we start feeling breathless. Even then, the problem doesn’t resolve. And the heart muscles start getting tired themselves and feel pain due to overwork. Hence, the chest pain.

What are causes?

Honestly, the exact causes are not known to us. However, research was only able to suggest that the sudden release of stress hormones like epinephrine (or adrenaline), norepineprine (or noradrenaline), dopamine, and catecholamines, could ‘stun’ the heart.

But it is evident that no matter what, stress is the definite factor that is present in every case of this condition. Hence, it is important to understand what stress means here and how it plays a role in this problem.

Stress, is actually the body’s response to things it thinks/feels as abnormal. These abnormalities can physical or emotional conditions. Physical conditions may include extreme cold weather, rains, injury, fever, dehydration, or even low blood sugars. While emotional situations could be death of a loved ones, failure, betrayal, etc. When such situations occur, the body tries to handle them itself, by producing hormones and proteins. These include adrenaline and noradrenaline, that are meant to help the body handle the stress.

So, for example, if a person is suddenly chased by an animal where he thinks it could bite him anytime now, the body would produce large amounts of adrenaline to help him either fight the animal or run faster and escape. Similarly, in stress cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle is affected overwhelmed by a massive amount of adrenaline that is suddenly produced in response to stress.

How exactly adrenaline affects the heart is unknown. But it is believed that it enters the heart cells and creates a disturbance in the normal chemical balance of the cell, leading to disturbed function.

Whatever the mechanism, it appears that the effects of these hormones on the heart are only temporary and completely reversible. So, there’s no permanent or long-term damage.

How do we know whether its a temporary broken heart syndrome or a real heart attack?

Well, you will never know until we don’t investigate what is actually happening within the heart, with the help of an ECHO or an angiography.

A heart attack is actually caused by complete or nearing complete blockage of at least one heart artery. This is most often due to atherosclerosis or cholesterol deposit.

On the other hand, a broken heart syndrome, there is no blockage in the arteries. But in fact, the blood flowing through the arteries could have reduced.

Treatments

Since the symptoms of broken heart syndrome are almost similar to that of a heart attack, the initial treatment is often the same as for a heart attack. Once, it is identified, though further investigations, like the 2D ECHO and angiography, the treatment for stress cardiomyopathy is then largely supportive care while the heart is allowed time to recovere and get back to its original funtion. Other supportive treatments may include:

  • Medicines to remove fluid from the lungs, if any
  • Medicines to reduce the blood pressure
  • Blood thinners to prevent blood clots, heart attacks and strokes
  • If any patient already had a previous heart problem, then some of them may be placed on a ventilator or an intra-aortic balloon pump (to help the heart temporarily pump blood).

Other Options

Since there is no organic cause for this condition, the most important part of the treatment is to resolve the stress factor what was the root cause of this problem. In which case, consulting a Homeopathic physician for supportive management of both emotional and physical health would be a very good option.

Many heart patients use homeopathic medicines, either generic or personalized, for the management of their heart problems. It helps them resolve the root cause and prevent further progression of their disease. You may read about some of the true stories of such patients here.

Do you know of anyone who is suffering from this condition? Then, share your experience about how you have actually witnessed the effects of a stressful situation on the heart.

Hope you enjoyed reading this post and learnt something useful! If you have any particular medical condition, you want to know more about, comment below and I will make it come true!

Until next time, take care!