New Data Helps Explains Broken Heart Syndrome

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers have gathered data that may help explain “Broken Heart Syndrome”. People who experience symptoms of the rare condition, medically known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, experience weakened hearts, leading to symptoms that mimic heart attack. The medical community has little understanding of broken heart syndrome, making treatment difficult.

The exact cause of “broken heart syndrome" has remained a mystery. Broken heart syndrome follows very stressful events, either physical or emotional. Scientists believe adrenaline hormone surges weaken the heart, leading to broken heart syndrome by “stunning” the heart. Adrenaline is a stress hormone.

According to the new data, 67% of the patients studied were involved in stressful life events, such as bad news about a family member, severe physical ailment, motor vehicle accident, or a domestic dispute just before the onset of heart attack like symptoms. The researchers looked at 70 patients diagnosed with broken heart syndrome between July 2004 and April 2008.

All of the patients diagnosed with broken heart syndrome presented with symptoms that mimic heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath. Other symptoms were more severe. The study showed that six patients presented with cardiogenic shock, and three required emergency defibrillation. Only two patients developed recurrent symptoms of broken heart syndrome; the others experienced no other heart related issues in the four years they were followed.

Postmenopausal women comprised 95% of those suffering from broken heart syndrome. All of the broken heart syndrome patients were given typical diagnostic tests and drugs used in the treatment of acute coronary syndrome.


Lead study author Richard Regnante, MD, an interventional cardiology fellow at The Miriam Hospital says, "It can be difficult for cardiologists and emergency room physicians to diagnose and manage patients with broken heart syndrome. However, this data will helps us better understand the disease process and could play a major role in developing and tailoring more effective short and long-term treatment strategies.”

Most heart attacks occur during the winter months. The researchers found that broken heart syndrome typically happens during spring and summer, a finding that is not easy for the researchers to explain.

Dr. Regnante says some believe broken heart syndrome is “simply a form of a heart attack that 'aborts' itself early and therefore doesn't leave any permanent heart muscle damage. Others say that the syndrome has nothing to do with the coronary arteries and is simply a problem with the heart muscle. Since the seasonal pattern of broken heart syndrome that we observed is opposite of what it seen with heart attack patients, our findings suggest – but certainly does not prove – the latter theory may be correct."

The research showed successful outcomes when patients with broken heart syndrome are treated at the onset of symptoms. Though broken heart syndrome rarely leads to death, it can be life threatening if not treated within the first 48 hours.

The researchers, from The Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island, hope to learn even more about the causes and treatment of broken heart syndrome. The authors are launching a new study using ultrasound to look inside the blood vessels to find out exactly what causes broken heart syndrome.

Reference: American Journal Of Cardiology


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