What is broken heart syndrome?
Sudden emotional stress can precipitate a heart disease called ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ or stress cardiomyopathy. It is a disease of the heart muscle, usually following a major stressful life event like loss of spouse or a dear one. Sometimes it can be associated with another acute illness as well. It may manifest with chest pain or breathlessness and ECG findings may mimick a heart attack. Ultrasound imaging of the heart (echocardiogram) shows a peculiar finding: ballooning of tip of the left ventricle (lower muscular chamber of the heart). Hence this condition is also called apical ballooning syndrome. Though symptoms often resemble that of a heart attack, there is no significant block in any of the coronary arteries (blood vessel carrying oxygenated blood to the heart muscle). Most cases of broken heart syndrome recover over a period of time and heart muscle function is fully regained. For some reason, heart rhythm abnormalities are less common in broken heart syndrome than in a heart attack of corresponding severity. Broken heart syndrome can occasionally be fatal. It may noted that an actual heart attack (myocardial infarction) can also be precipitated by a major emotional stress. But it is different from broken heart syndrome in that there is a blockage in one or more coronary arteries in case of heart attack.