A new study shows a growing number of cases of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as “broken heart syndrome,” in Missouri and Vermont following major natural disasters.
People with the condition may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, and believe they are having a heart attack. Your cardiac muscle can temporarily enlarge and weaken, and is often triggered by extreme emotional or physical stress. Stress hormones paralyze the heart, affecting muscle tissues and blood vessels, and impede proper contraction of the left ventricle, according to the Daily Beast.
Biomarkers in the blood and electrocardiogram changes can bear the markers of a cardiac arrest. Even though broken heart syndrome typically resolves within a month or two, it can result in serious complication, like heart failure, life-threatening arrhythmias and stroke, PsychCentral notes.
Previous studies show that as many as one in four patients with broken heart syndrome have some form of arrhythmia, while between 1-7 percent suffer cardiac arrest.
Patients with the condition are diagnosed in the lab when physicians see no blockages in the artery, or imaging reveals changes in the shape of the heart that are characteristic of the syndrome, researchers explained.
“By and large, it is a very reversible form of cardiomyopathy, but in the acute phase these patients need to be monitored closely to be sure they are stable and to prevent and manage problems,” Sadip Pant, M.D., an internist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, was quoted as saying. “It’s also something that emergency doctors and medical personnel need to be aware of as they are often on the frontlines seeing patients after disaster strikes.”
It is believed the episodes are caused by the sympathetic response and surges of adrenaline in the body, similar to the fight-or-flight response. He says that this leads to depressed function of the apex and middle segment of the heart of the base, producing a balloon-like appearance.
“It’s a perfect example of our brain-heart connection,” Pant said. “The emotional stress we have in our brain can lead to responses in the heart, and not much is known about this condition.”