In the 1990s a new syndrome was diagnosed and was given the name Takotsubo (broken heart), acute heart failure after hearing about unexpected event.
Medical Advisor Sebastián Naranjo – Cardiologist
In the 1990s, a group of physicians from Japan gave the name “Takotsubo” to an unknown syndrome in which a patient experiences acute reversible heart failure after hearing about intense, sad or even happy news or events.
This name was inspired by Japanese culture. In Japan, fishermen used to throw small fishing pots into the sea. Then they would collect them with their nets and systems and, inside these pots, octopus were usually found in the shape of the pot. The doctors decided to adopt this word due to how similar the octopus was to the shape the human heart takes after being exposed to intense emotional circumstances.
Later, other people named this syndrome the “broken-heart syndrome,” because in our culture it is believed that this organ, a frequently referenced image, breaks after hearing shocking events or news that are usually sad in nature.
Women are most affected
Cardiologist Sebastián Naranjo explains that, in clinical terms, this syndrome is known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy. This is when the heart fails due to a sudden release of large amounts of catecholamines, substances similar to adrenaline, which in very high doses, have a toxic effect on the heart. “There is still little known about this condition. The coronary arteries contract, which prevents the heart from getting enough blood. It is then interrupted and heart failure occurs,” Dr. Naranjo explains.
The symptoms of this condition are similar to those of a heart attack, but its consequences are less serious, such as feeling ill and experiencing chest pain, back pain, breathlessness and dizziness, among others.
According to recent studies published by Harvard Medical School, about 90% of patients that experience this condition are women who have entered menopause. This is related to the decrease of estrogen in the body, which could have a direct effect on the heart, such as with this condition.
As the doctor explains, regions such as the United States report 50,000 episodes of this condition a year; and in approximately 30% to 35% of these cases analyzed, a specific factor that caused the event was not found. A great majority of cases occurs in patients who are hospitalized and in another large percentage of the population, they are attributed to environmental triggers: tragedies such as earthquakes or tsunamis, receiving bad news, learning about the death of a loved one, experiencing something that is extremely upsetting or having a strong argument with someone.
Treatment depends on the specific conditions of each person. Generally, however, the condition is treated with medications and people often recover about 12 weeks after the episode; although changes may occur in the body up to 6 and 12 months afterwards.
As with other heart conditions, the recommendation is to reduce the risk factors that affect the heart such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, physical inactivity and obesity.
Other ways of preventing it include learning healthy ways to deal with stress through special classes, recreational programs, meditation or yoga, and by limiting alcohol consumption.
50 years and over is the age in which this heart condition is most common.
Treat the warning signs on time
The Spanish Cardiology Society explains the most common underlying situations that are behind this diagnosis:
Adrenaline and other catecholamines are substances that illicit responses in the body that are designed to produce symptoms such as dilated pupils, an increased respiratory rate, the narrowing of coronary arteries, perspiration or a rise in blood pressure. In the heart, these responses increase the heart rate and make the heart contract harder than normal. The problem occurs when high levels of these substances cause damage to the heart muscle, which is generally temporary.
Since patients with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy experience symptoms similar to those of a myocardial infarction, and because the symptoms that appear in the electrocardiogram and in the heart ultrasound are similar to those of patients with acute myocardial infarctions, initial assessments are commonly erroneous.