Image: The Notebook
Dying of a broken heart is more than a myth. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (also known as broken heart syndrome) is a condition first recognised by Japanese researchers more than 20 years ago, and it has gained a great deal of attention in Western countries in the past ten years.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TTC) temporarily affects the ability of the heart to pump efficiently. When this happens, the person experiences the same symptoms as those of a heart attack, including chest pain and shortness of breath. Less commonly, it can cause death.
Although the symptoms of a heart attack and TTC are the same, they have different causes. Whereas a heart attack is caused by a blockage in one of the coronary arteries supplying the heart muscle, the exact mechanism of TTC is not entirely clear.
TTC is associated with patterns of abnormal contraction of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, but it is not caused by blocked coronary arteries. The condition is being widely researched internationally, but it is generally accepted by the scientific community that stress hormones, such as adrenalin, are partly at fault.
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What causes broken heart syndrome?
In most cases TTC is preceded by severe psychological or physical stress. The condition was first recognised in women who had experienced a traumatic emotional event, such as the death of a spouse. Hence, the commonly used name “broken heart syndrome”.
The types of stressors associated with TTC vary widely, from what may seem to be trivial events to severe life-changing events. Some of the more common psychological stressors include death of a spouse or other significant family member, family arguments, negative events in the workplace, psychiatric illness, loss of property, loss of a pet, anniversary of a death and traumatic social or environmental events such as war, earthquakes and floods.
Examples of commonly reported physical stressors include acute medical illness or trauma, stroke, epilepsy, heat stress, being diagnosed with diseases such as cancer and giving birth.