How does it feel when you have to face a stressful emotional situation, like the death of a loved one? It feels terrible of course. Have you ever wondered if there's a term to describe what you feel at that time? 'Broken heart syndrome' is the term. The condition is caused due to a surge of stress hormones. Other names that refer to the same condition are apical ballooning syndrome, takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or stress cardiomyopathy. The good thing is that you can find a treatment plan to deal with the symptoms of broken heart syndrome and return to normal in about a week.
Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome
There are many different signs and symptoms of broken heart syndrome:
- The most common are shortness of breath and angina. The interesting thing is that you may experience these signs even if you don't have a history of any cardiovascular issue.
- You may also notice irregular heartbeats when you're under a sheer amount of mental stress.
- Cardiogenic shock is another associated symptom, in which your heart becomes weak and stops pumping enough blood in your body. Due to this shock, it wouldn't be wrong to suggest that you can die of a broken heart if you don't seek immediate medical attention.
- You may also notice other symptoms, such as chest pressure, ballooning of the left ventricle, throat tightness, severe sweating, movement abnormalities in the left ventricle and pain in the back or arm.
What Causes Broken Heart Syndrome?
It is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of broken heart syndrome, but a number of factors can lead to a broken heart.
1. Emotional and Physical Factors
Several emotional and physical events can trigger broken heart syndrome. Some of the potential triggers include sudden death of a loved one, domestic abuse, natural disasters, loss of money, a frightening medical diagnosis, loss of job, etc. Other stressors, such as a car accident, an asthma attack or major surgery may also cause broken heart syndrome.
The excessive use of certain drugs may also lead to broken heart syndrome. These drugs cause a surge of stress hormones and create several symptoms associated with a broken heart. Some of the most common drugs include
- Epinephrine, used to treat asthma attacks or allergic reactions
- Duloxetine, used to treat nerve problems
- Venlafaxine, used to treat depression
- Levothyroxine, a treatment option for people with dysfunctional thyroid glands
Difference Between Broken Heart Syndrome and Heart Attack
The symptoms of heart attack and broken heart syndrome may overlap greatly, but they are 2 different things:
- A heart attack is the outcome of blockages or blood clots that form in the coronary arteries. These clots restrict the blood supply and in some cases cut it off completely to kill heart muscle cells. This causes permanent damage to your heart.
- Broken heart syndrome is not the same. You may have normal coronary arteries, but you may still experience broken heart syndrome. In this situation, your body releases stress hormones that don't kill your heart cells but "stun" them for long enough to cause several symptoms. This doesn’t cause any permanent damage and the "stunning" effect usually reverses in a few weeks.
The important thing is to consult your doctor because the symptoms are so similar that is often difficult to tell if it is broken heart syndrome or you're having a heart attack.
How to Deal With Broken Heart Syndrome
It is common for people to get in a shock and tend to develop broken heart syndrome when they hear some bad news. But there are certain ways to grapple with the whole issue. For instance:
- Your physician may suggest beta-blockers or similar medications as long-term treatment option. Your doctor may also opt for diuretics or ACE inhibitors. These medications will help limit the potentially damaging effects of stress hormones. You may get a full recovery in 1 or 2 months.
- Your doctor may also give you aspirin if you also have atherosclerosis, a condition in which excessive plaque builds up in the arterial walls.
- You should pay special attention to identifying and managing stress in your life to avoid broken heart syndrome from happening.
Be sure to ask your doctor about how long you need to take these medications after the symptoms have gone completely. Some doctors may consider continuing beta-blockers indefinitely to avoid any recurrence of similar symptoms.