Takotsubo: The Broken Heart Syndrome – By Dr. Hilana Omar

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Photographed by Didgeman
A mother fights with her son and starts to scream from chest pain. With her hands on her chest and pain in her left arm, she faints, and doctors ask if anyone upset her…

We all laughed at such movie scenes, because they feel so dramatic and unrealistic, without understanding the truth behind this condition. Well, it was nothing but Takotsubo, also known as broken heart syndrome.
How many times have you heard a sad person say “My heart hurts!” or “I feel like my heart is being squeezed in my chest”? They might not be metaphorically speaking. This  can really happen due to sadness, which can kill her more than it can kill him.
Takotsubo is a Japanese word  for octopus traps that resemble the pot-like shape of the stricken heart. Despite the fact that the name makes us think of a cartoon image of a cracked open heart, it is a real cardiac condition, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Pathologically, the heart muscle becomes temporarily thicker, more rigid and weaker, leading to acute heart failure.
A patient with broken heart syndrome, has normal EKG (electrocardiogram). That’s one reason why it could be easily missed by practitioners in the ER. While blood tests show increased cardiac enzymes, chest x-rays show enlarged hearts. The good news is most of these cases are reversible and can recover within weeks. There is no specific treatment, which is set as a guideline. In fact, these cases are treated with the same medications used in heart failure. The bad news is that this condition can suddenly affect healthy and unhealthy people, youngsters and the elderly, but women are affected more than men.
The most common symptoms of broken heart syndrome are chest pain and shortness of breath. It can strike someone with no history of heart disease and with no risk factors at all. It can be caused by emotional trauma, as the death of loved ones, breakups, or stress, which can be caused by stressful jobs. Few cases have been reported that people experienced this condition when receiving good news that were too good to be true, like winning the lottery or being shocked with unexpected news.
How can we know the difference between a heart attack and broken heart syndrome?
They both have common symptoms and signs, but broken heart syndrome usually strikes all of a sudden after a severe emotional or physical stress.
Here are other differences:
  • EKG (a test that records the heart’s electric activity) results don’t look the same as the EKG results for a person having a heart attack.
  • Blood tests show no signs of heart damage.
  • Tests show no signs of blockages in the coronary arteries. It also shows ballooning and unusual movement of the lower left heart chamber (left ventricle).
  • Recovery time is quick, usually within days or weeks (compared with the recovery time of a month or more for a heart attack).
So now after we have explained it, how can we prevent it?
There is a small chance that broken heart syndrome can happen again after a first episode. There’s no proven therapy to prevent additional episodes; however, many doctors recommend long-term treatment with beta blockers or similar medications that block the potentially damaging effects of stress hormones on the heart. Recognizing and managing stress in your life also is very important. Meditation and yoga can help with stress.
Finally, don’t take life too seriously! Accept life’s changes, stay flexible, and mitigate stress at all costs. Take time to enjoy your family, friends, loved ones and most of all …yourself!
Stress is a silent killer. It strikes with no notice and when you least expect it.
Save your life because no one else can 😉

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