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Broken Heart Syndrome
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Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or apical ballooning syndrome, is a temporary heart condition brought on by stressful situations. The symptoms feel similar to a heart attack, because of a temporary disruption of the heart's normal pumping function, but the condition is both treatable and reversible. It is important to note that in broken heart syndrom, the heart arteries are not blocked (as happens with a heart attack), but the blood flow in the heart's arteries may be reduced.

Common symptoms of broken heart syndrome include:
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Very rapid or irregular heartbeat
Because these symptoms could be indicators of an actual heart attack, you should always call 911 any time you experience these symptoms following a stressful event.

Doctors are still not certain what causes broken heart syndrome, but it could be related to a sudden surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, that causes temporary damage to the heart. Some potential triggers of broken heart syndrome include:
  • News of an unexpected death of a loved one
  • A frightening medical diagnosis
  • Domestic abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Job loss
  • Divorce
  • Physical stressors, such as an asthma attack, a car accident, or major surgery
There are also a few medications that may possibly cause a surge of stress hormones that can trigger broken heart syndrome:
  • Epinephrine (EpiPen, EpiPen Jr.)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)
  • Levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl)
In rare occurrences, broken heart syndrome is fatal, but most people recover quickly and do not suffer long-term consequences. It is also possible to have a recurrence of broken heart syndrome during another stressful event, although the probability is low for most. Some possible complications include:
  • Pulmonary edema (backup of fluid in the lungs)
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Disruptions in heartbeat
No matter what, if you are experiencing any heart attack symptoms as described above, call 911 and get emergency treatment. Some of the tests that a doctor may perform to determine whether you are having a heart attack or broken heart syndrome include:
  • Medical history and physical exam
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest x-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Blood tests
  • Coronary angiogram
Treatment of broken heart syndrome may include prescribed heart medications, such as ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, or diuretics, as well as long-term stress management. Most patients make a full recover within one to two months, and you may be able to discontinue medications at that time under the advice of your physician. Some doctors do recommend long-term treatment with beta blockers that can help reduce the stress hormones that may be damaging your heart.

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the nearly 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a founding partner of The Heart Truth Red Dress campaign. The Heart Truth and Red Dress are trademarks of HHS.