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Broken heart syndrome

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Nov 11, 2023.

Overview

Broken heart syndrome is a heart condition that's often brought on by stressful situations and extreme emotions. The condition also can be triggered by a serious physical illness or surgery. Broken heart syndrome is usually temporary. But some people may continue to feel unwell after the heart is healed.

People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or think they're having a heart attack. Broken heart syndrome affects just part of the heart. It briefly interrupts the way the heart pumps blood. The rest of the heart continues to work as usual. Sometimes the heart contracts more forcefully.

Medicines are used to treat symptoms of broken heart syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome also may be called:

Symptoms

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome can mimic those of a heart attack. Symptoms may include:

When to see a doctor

Any continued chest pain could be due to a heart attack. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you have new or unexplained chest pain. Also call if you have a very rapid or irregular heartbeat or shortness of breath.

Causes

The exact cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear. It's thought that a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, might damage the hearts of some people for a short time. How these hormones might hurt the heart or whether something else is the cause isn't completely clear.

A temporary squeezing of the large or small arteries of the heart may play a role in the development of broken heart syndrome. People who have broken heart syndrome also may have a change in the structure of the heart muscle.

An intense physical or emotional event often comes before broken heart syndrome. Anything that causes a strong emotional reaction may trigger the condition. Examples include:

Rarely, use of certain medicines or illegal drugs may lead to broken heart syndrome. They include:

Always tell your healthcare team about the medicines you take, including those bought without a prescription. When starting a new medicine, talk to your care team about the potential risks and side effects.

How is broken heart syndrome different from a heart attack?

Heart attack is generally caused by a complete or near-complete blockage of a heart artery. In broken heart syndrome, the heart arteries are not blocked. But blood flow in the arteries of the heart may be reduced.

Risk factors

Risk factors for broken heart syndrome include:

Complications

Most people who have broken heart syndrome quickly recover and usually don't have long-lasting effects. But sometimes the condition comes back. This is called recurrent takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Rarely, broken heart syndrome can cause death.

Complications of broken heart syndrome include:

Prevention

To prevent another episode of broken heart syndrome, many healthcare professionals recommend long-term treatment with beta blockers or similar medicines. These medicines block the potentially harmful effects of stress hormones on the heart.

Having chronic stress may increase the risk of broken heart syndrome. Taking steps to manage emotional stress can improve heart health and may help prevent broken heart syndrome. Some ways to reduce and manage stress include:

Diagnosis

Broken heart syndrome is often diagnosed in an emergency or hospital setting because symptoms mimic those of a heart attack.

To diagnose broken heart syndrome, a healthcare professional examines you and asks questions about your symptoms and medical history. You may be asked if you've had any major stresses recently, such as the death of a loved one.

People who have broken heart syndrome usually don't have any heart disease symptoms before the condition is diagnosed.

Tests to help diagnose broken heart syndrome include:

Treatment

There's no standard treatment for broken heart syndrome. Treatment is similar to heart attack care until the diagnosis is clear. Most people stay in the hospital while they get better.

Many people with broken heart syndrome are fully recovered within a month or so. An echocardiogram is done about 4 to 6 weeks after the first symptoms to make sure the heart is working better. Sometimes, broken heart syndrome happens again after treatment.

Medications

Once it's clear that broken heart syndrome is the cause of the symptoms, medicines may be given to reduce the strain on the heart. Medicines also can help prevent further episodes of broken heart syndrome.

Medicines may include:

Surgeries or other procedures

Surgeries and procedures that are often used to treat a heart attack aren't helpful in treating broken heart syndrome. Such treatments open blocked arteries. Blocked arteries do not cause broken heart syndrome.

Preparing for an appointment

Broken heart syndrome is usually diagnosed in an emergency or a hospital setting.

If possible, have a family member or friend come with you to the hospital. Someone who goes with you can help you remember the information you're given.

If possible, share important information with the person taking you to the hospital:

At the hospital, you may have many questions. If possible, you may want to ask:

Don't hesitate to ask any additional questions.

What to expect from the doctor

A healthcare professional who sees you for chest pain may ask:

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