"Broken Heart Syndrome," or Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy

The symptoms of this disease are very similar to those of a severe heart attack, but less dire. Although it’s not a serious illness, you should know more about it.
"Broken Heart Syndrome," or Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Broken heart syndrome. Believe it or not, it’s not just a poetic expression. We’re talking about a particular form of cardiomyopathy that doctors say almost exclusively affects women.

Also known as Takotsubo (stress) cardiomyopathy, it’s mainly caused by stress and accompanied by certain symptoms you should know about.

In today’s article, we invite you to learn more about this disorder, both for your health and peace of mind. If you’re a person who takes on lots of responsibilities and experiences bouts of high stress and anxiety, read the following important information!

What is Broken Heart Syndrome?

Suffering a setback or disappointment, losing a loved one, or simply the stress that accumulates day after day can bring you to the verge of having something like a heart attack.

However, we should first stress that while this is a form of “heart failure,” it’s not nearly as serious as a heart attack.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a disease that we still don’t have a lot of information about. It was first described in Japan in the 1990s, and is so called because this kind of cardiomyopathy causes deformation of the heart muscle in a shape that is similar in appearance to a particular instrument that Japanese fishermen use to catch octopus. It’s curious and illustrative, without a doubt.

Negative emotions like sorrow, suffering, or chronic stress can cause the left ventricle of the heart to become slightly deformed. Thus, it causes a narrowing of the coronary arteries.

You’ll feel pain, very characteristic of a choking sensation, but mortality is quite low – around only 5%. However, this is a serious heart problem that we should be aware of.

What Causes Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy?

broken heart

According to the experts, 90% of the sufferers of this disease are women who have experienced episodes of high stress.

Remember, stress causes metabolic changes in the body. Large doses of catecholamines are released, and when they reach very high levels they’re toxic to the heart muscle.

Situational stress, anxiety, and emotional shock can also cause an adrenaline rush that can trigger one of these attacks.

What you’ll feel is a lack of air, as if someone is trying to drown you. This is congestive heart failure, which can be seen perfectly on an electrocardiogram. It looks very similar to an acute heart attack, but has less serious consequences.

Don’t miss this article: What is a Myocardial Infarction?

What are the Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome?

broken heart

Your symptoms might appear suddenly, especially after you suffer a strong emotional blow. The first thing you’ll experience is very strong chest pain, a burning sensation that keeps you from breathing normally.
Cold sweats and pain in the left arm are also very common. These are symptoms that are very similar to a normal heart attack.

The above symptoms are characteristic of situations where, after you’ve received bad news or something similar, the heart reacts to the elevated levels of catecholamines and adrenaline, which can damage it.

However, remember that everyday situations where negative emotions and stress accumulate slowly and over time can also damage the health of the heart.

How can you tell something bad is happening to you?

Pay attention to your levels of fatigue, like if you climb a normal flight of stairs and are short of breath. In addition, notice if you have pain in your jaw or back.

These are clues that your heart is having to pump harder than it should. You should also take note if you always feel tired in the afternoons, or if your legs are unusually swollen.

Can you Prevent Broken Heart Syndrome?

broken heart

The information above should serve as a warning to you.

Why does this kind of cardiomyopathy mostly affect women?

Experts tell us that it’s women who suffer the most from stress. Men, meanwhile, experience lower stress levels – but, they manage it more poorly. This makes them more likely to suffer a true heart attack that results in death.

Stress is manifested through headaches, musculoskeletal problems, or small cardiac lesions that can be observed in patients with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Nevertheless, women have better strategies than men for dealing with periods of stress and anxiety.

Want to know how?

  • We communicate better. We’re able to express our thoughts, feelings, and problems in words. Talking with someone relieves stress more readily than for men.
  • We’re typically more sensitive and more intuitive. This means that when we experience a problem, we have the ability to tackle it with the benefit of multiple points of view. However, in order to achieve this, you must be optimistic, open, and have the right motivation.
  • Try to manage your everyday issues and don’t let them build up. Sometimes, women have so many responsibilities (work, children, elderly parents) they don’t take the time you need for themselves, and it can suffocate you, making you unhappy.
  • Try making small changes in your daily life and remind yourself that you deserve to be happy. Take care of yourself a little better!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.