What is Broken Heart Syndrome — Symptoms and Causes

What is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Have you ever felt so sad or stressed that your heart hurts? You may have experienced what some people call broken heart syndrome, a condition that can cause rapid and reversible heart muscle weakness, also known as stress cardiomyopathy.

What causes it?

Broken heart syndrome is often triggered by an intense physical or emotional event that causes a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, to flood the heart. These hormones may temporarily damage the heart muscle or interfere with its normal pumping function.

Some examples of stressful events that can cause broken heart syndrome are:

  • Death of a loved one or other loss
  • Strong argument
  • Sudden illness or surgery
  • Broken bone
  • Fear or Surprise

However, not everyone who has broken heart syndrome has a clear trigger. Up to 30% of patients have no identifiable stressor at the time of their symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of broken heart syndrome can mimic those of a heart attack, such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness

These symptoms may begin as soon as minutes or as long as hours after a stressful event.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

If you have symptoms of broken heart syndrome, you should seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor will perform tests to rule out a heart attack and confirm the diagnosis of broken heart syndrome. These tests may include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the electrical activity of your heart
  • Blood tests, which measure the levels of enzymes and proteins that indicate heart damage
  • Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create images of your heart and show how well it pumps blood
  • Coronary angiogram, which uses dye and X-rays to show the blood flow in your heart arteries

The treatment for broken heart syndrome depends on the severity of your condition and the underlying cause. Most people recover fully within days or weeks with supportive care, such as:

  • Medicines to relieve chest pain, lower blood pressure, prevent blood clots and regulate heart rhythm
  • Oxygen therapy to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood
  • Fluids to prevent dehydration and improve blood flow
  • Diuretics to reduce fluid buildup in your lungs and body
  • Beta-blockers to block the effects of stress hormones on your heart

In rare cases, people with broken heart syndrome may need more aggressive treatments, such as:

  • Mechanical devices to support the pumping function of your heart
  • Surgery to repair any damage to your heart valves or arteries

How can I prevent it?

There is no sure way to prevent broken heart syndrome, but you can take steps to reduce your risk and cope with stress better, such as:

  • Avoiding or limiting exposure to stressful situations or triggers
  • Seeking professional help if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga or tai chi
  • Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep and rest
  • Talking to your friends, family or a counselor about your feelings and problems
  • Joining a support group or online community for people who have experienced broken heart syndrome or similar conditions

Broken heart syndrome is a real and serious condition that can affect anyone. However, with prompt diagnosis, proper treatment and healthy coping strategies, you can recover from it and live a normal life.

If you think you or someone you know may have broken heart syndrome, don’t hesitate to call 911 or seek medical help. Your heart will thank you.

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