This time of year can be difficult for those who may be grieving the loss of a loved one, but can you die of a broken heart? According to cardiologists, it is possible.
The condition is called Takotusubo, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, and it occurs when stress causes dysfunction or failure of the heart muscle.
It’s rare — about 1 percent of patients seen for heart attacks are actually suffering from Takotusubo, according to Dr. Jeffrey Wieland, an interventional cardiologist, Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, and Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation — but it can cause unstable heart rhythms, which can be lethal.
“Typically, people present with symptoms that mimic a heart attack, and that’s appropriate because there is usually some kind of injury to the heart muscle,” Wieland said. “If you measure the enzymes, they will be positive and the presentation on the EKG will look like a heart attack. The patient will likely experience chest pain, shortness of breath and sometimes indigestion.”
When the patient is taken to the cardiac catheterization lab, however, images of the heart show no blockages. Instead, the contraction of the heart is abnormal, and the shape of the left ventricle
is elongated, suggesting injury.
According to Wieland, Takotusubo is seen frequently in women ages 55-70, often with very few risk factors for coronary artery disease. It could be prompted by any unexpected event that causes an adrenaline surge. Usually, the heart will heal itself within a few days, but Wieland encourages anyone with chest pain to seek help immediately.
“Even if you have no risk factors, chest pain should be taken seriously,” he said. “If you have chest pain, you need to be evaluated.”
Patients diagnosed with Takotusubo are typically prescribed medications that improve pumping function of the left ventricle and prevent spasms of the coronary arteries. Wieland said Takotusubo rarely causes permanent damage, and there is low risk for recurrence.
Smoking, family history, diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are all risk factors for heart disease. To learn more, visit peninsula.org/heart.