Achy Breaky Heart Syndrome

We have all experienced a broken heart before, whether it be from a relationship, grieving someone or something, rejection, etc. What a lot of people do not know is that broken heart syndrome is a real condition.

Broken heart syndrome, also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is a heart condition that is brought on by extreme stress hormones or emotions. It can also be brought upon by a serious illness or surgery. With broken heart syndrome, a part of your heart does not pump well (usually enlarged), while the rest of the heart functions normally or with more forceful contractions. Symptoms of broken heart syndrome are usually treatable, and the condition can reverse itself in just weeks.

Broken heart syndrome symptoms usually mimic a heart attack: chest pain and shortness of breath. Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) might also occur with this condition. However, in broken heart syndrome, the symptoms occur suddenly and usually after extreme emotional or physical stress. Some potential triggers of broken heart syndrome are:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Domestic abuse
  • A serious medical diagnosis
  • Job loss or financial difficulty
  • Divorce
  • Losing – or even winning – a lot of money
  • A surprise
  • An argument with a loved one
  • Public speaking
  • Physical stressors (surgery, asthma attack, broken bone or even a COVID-19 diagnosis)
  • Illegal stimulants

There are several risks to be aware of for broken heart syndrome including:

  • Age – most people who experience this condition are over the age of 50.
  • Sex – women experience broken heart syndrome more than men.
  • Psychiatric disorders – if you previously have experienced or currently are experiencing a disorder such as anxiety or depression, you probably have a higher risk for broken heart syndrome.
  • A history of a neurological condition – individuals who have neurological disorders such as epilepsy or a head injury, have a greater risk as well.

In rare cases, broken heart syndrome is fatal. Most of the time it can be easily treated and there are no lasting effects. Some other complications of this syndrome are low blood pressure, disruptions of the heartbeat, backup of fluid on your lungs (pulmonary edema) and heart failure. Oftentimes, broken heart syndrome can be treated with medication or a change of lifestyle. Recognizing and managing the stress in your life can also help prevent this syndrome.

It is important to speak to your doctor or call 911 if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above. To find care or a physician, visit UofLHealth.org. For additional resources about broken heart syndrome, visit, www.heart.org.

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About Siddharth Pahwa, M.D.

Dr. Siddharth Pahwa graduated from Manipal University and completed his general surgery residency and cardiothoracic surgery fellowship in India. He completed two additional postgraduate fellowships in advanced cardiac surgery and mechanical circulatory support and cardiothoracic transplant at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He joined the faculty at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and UofL Health in July 2020. Dr. Pahwa's medical practice is focused on complex coronary artery revascularization, including total arterial revascularization, aortic surgery, left ventricular assist devices and heart transplantation. Dr. Pahwa is married and has two daughters and enjoys his time on the tennis courts and with family.

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