Women's Heart Advisor April 2008 Issue

‘Broken Heart Syndrome’ Mimics Heart Attack Symptoms

The condition usually strikes women during a time of extreme stress. However, the symptoms typically vanish without causing lasting harm.

Some people under high stress develop heart attack-like symptoms that can include shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, and chest pain. It happens more often to women than men, and usually follows a time of extreme emotional stress, such as the loss of a spouse. Surprisingly, these patients do not have significant coronary artery disease. Instead they have a condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or "broken heart syndrome." Recognition of the syndrome is so new that its true prevalence is unknown, but it may affect up to 28 percent of patients admitted to medical intensive care units for non-cardiac reasons. Nearly 100 percent of women diagnosed with Takotsubo are postmenopausal.

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