Stress Cardiomyopathy: Broken Heart Syndrome

Stress cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome, is a condition that can sometimes be mistaken as a heart attack.  Though unlike a heart attack it is temporary, and there are not blocked arteries in the heart.  Broken heart syndrome is reversible in a few days or up to a week, and if you suffer from it will usually be fully recovered in about 4 to 8 weeks. 

When you experience stress cardiomyopathy part of your heart enlarges and doesn’t pump well, while the rest of the heart works normally.  Usually due to stress hormones being released that temporarily curb your heart’s ability to pump.  It is hard to know how common this condition is since it is so easily diagnosed as a heart attack when first diagnosed.  This affects women more than men, and people who are over the age of fifty though it can affect anyone. 



Broken heart syndrome is caused by both emotional and physical triggers.  Usually high stress or extremely emotional events cause an episode of stress cardiomyopathy.  Emotions can be grief, good news, bad news, intense fear, or extreme anger.  Physical triggers could be severe pain, an exhausting physical event, asthma attack, difficulty breathing, seizure, stroke, high fever, low blood sugar, large blood loss or even surgery. 

Specific events could be death of a loved one, serious illness, money problems, abuse, public speaking, armed robbery, losing your job, getting divorced, car accident, winning the lottery, or being the guest of honor at a surprise party.  The stress your body produces can weaken your heart muscles.  



Symptoms can start after a few hours after a stress or shock happens.  Symptoms can sometimes mimic a heart attack.  You can experience dizziness, fainting, low blood pressure, nausea, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, shortness or breath, weakening or left ventricle, or fluid in your lungs.  The main two symptoms are shortness of breath and chest pain.  



Complications are usually very rare when it comes to stress cardiomyopathy.  One complication you could experience is a ruptured left ventricle in your heart.  Another complication could be blockage of the blood flow from the left ventricle.  Others are heart failure, blood clots, and very rarely death.  Usually complications arise if you leave this untreated. 


Additional Reading:  10 Ways To Avoid A Heart Attack



Diagnosing at first can be difficult.  Since the symptoms mimic a heart attack when you first get to the doctor you may be treated as though you have a heart attack.  After a full personal history and physical exam your doctor may want to run some other tests.  They may want to do an Electrocardiogram to measure the electrical currents running through your heart.    An Echocardiogram may also need to be done, to check how your heart is pumping.  Blood tests, MRI, coronary angiogram, and chest X-rays are all things that your doctor may do as well when diagnosing stress cardiomyopathy.  



There is no one set treatment for broken heart syndrome.  This is because the effects can be different on everyone.  Usually you will be kept overnight in the hospital after your first symptoms have been presented until you start to feel better.  After the initial attack your doctor will want to put you on ACE inhibitors to help lower your blood pressure.  Beta blockers may be prescribed to slow your heart rate.  Diuretics can help decrease fluid buildup due to inefficient heart pumping.  Anti-anxiety medications can also be prescribed to help manage stress.  You will definitely need to follow up with your doctor to make sure your heart is recovering.  Making sure you learn how to manage your stress can also be part of your treatment.  Usually you will be fully recovered after about 4 to 8 weeks.  If you experience a stress cardiomyopathy episode usually you don’t have another one. 



There is no real way to prevent getting stress cardiomyopathy.  If you manage stress well, eat healthy, exercise, get good sleep, and see your doctor regularly you may be able to decrease your chances of ever getting this condition.  It is usually temporary and doesn’t have long term complications when treated appropriately.  Broken heart syndrome is rarely fatal.  


 High stress or extreme emotional events cause an episode of stress cardiomyopathy.


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