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"What is broken heart syndrome?"
A friend was telling me that her aunt, who was recently widowed after a long marriage, developed something called broken heart syndrome. I thought she was putting me on, but my friend insisted that this is the name of a real medical condition that has many symptoms similar to a real heart attack. What exactly is broken heart syndrome and what causes it? My friend said her aunt had been really depressed since her husband's sudden passing. Can you actually die from broken heart syndrome? What are the symptoms of this condition and how do they differ from an actual heart attack? If a person has these symptoms, should they immediately seek emergency medical treatment or will taking an aspirin help?
"Broken heart syndrome" is a term we sometimes use when trying to explain a condition called Takotsubo's cardiomyopathy. If you are concerned, please speak with a cardiologist. Takotsubo's is a condition that affects people that are undergoing an extreme stress often from experiencing a catastrophic event. We see this in the hospital sometimes with family member's who are dealing with the illness of a loved one. The condition often causes a decrease in the ability of the heart to contract. Thus, it is really more like heart failure than it is like a heart attack. There usually is not a disruption in blood flow to the heart muscle which is what usually happens with a heart attack. Patients with Takotsubo's will complain of shortness of breath and sometimes chest pain. People with this condition typically experience a full recovery after being placed on medications and after they recover from the traumatic emotional event. If you or someone you know experiences symptoms such as that above during a catastrophic event in their life then scheduling an appointment with a cardiologist would be helpful. Takotsubo's is sometimes diagnosed by echocardiogram and sometimes with cardiac catheterization. In either case, the prognosis of this condition is usually excellent, as long as the person had a fairly healthy heart to begin with.
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