Stress induced cardiomyopathy, aka broken heart syndrome, can be triggered by stress. Early treatment can prevent long-term damage.

Key takeaways

  • Stress induced cardiomyopathy, aka broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, refers to a condition in which the heart is temporarily stunned.
  • While the exact cause is unknown, the condition is often triggered by an unexpected or sudden stressful event, either physical or emotional.
  • Stress cardiomyopathy can heal, but damage to the heart muscle can be lasting if it’s not treated. In many cases, medications may be recommended to help ease symptoms during recovery or prevent symptoms from returning.
  • Engaging in stress management activities can help ease symptoms and prevent future stress cardiomyopathy events.
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We face stress in many situations, and it can take a toll on both our physical and mental well-being. In some instances, stress can even affect your heart.

The heart is at the center of all that you do. It ensures your blood is flowing to help your body function. So, it’s no surprise that you may be concerned when something seems off with this key organ.

Stress induced cardiomyopathy occurs when stress suddenly overwhelms you. While it can seem scary in the moment, this condition can be managed.

Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle (or myocardium) that can weaken the heart, causing it to become enlarged, rigid, or thick.

In this state, the muscle is unable to function properly and has difficulty pumping blood throughout the body.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are five main types of cardiomyopathy:

  • hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • dilated cardiomyopathy
  • arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy
  • restrictive cardiomyopathy
  • unclassified cardiomyopathy

The American Heart Association also identifies a sixth type: transthyretin amyloid cardiomyopathy, which can be a type of restrictive cardiomyopathy.

This condition can affect anyone at any age and is often left undiagnosed. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common type, affecting nearly 1 out of every 500 adults.

Stress induced cardiomyopathy — or simply stress cardiomyopathy — is a condition in which a sudden stressor “stuns“ the heart muscle, causing the left ventricle to swell and bulge. This can prevent blood from flowing naturally and lead to symptoms such as:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • palpitations
  • drop in blood pressure

Also known as “broken heart syndrome“ or “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy,“ this condition is often a result of sudden emotional or physical stress, such as an unexpected illness or the loss of a loved one.

While anyone can experience stress cardiomyopathy, the condition is most common in postmenopausal people. Research suggests that 15 to 30 out of every 100,000 annual cardiac events are related to stress cardiomyopathy.

The condition can reoccur and cause severe and lasting heart muscle weakness, which may be potentially life threatening if it’s not treated immediately.

Stress cardiomyopathy presents much like a heart attack, which is one reason why the two conditions can easily be confused for one another.

While both have similar symptoms and can lead to lasting heart muscle damage, the way this happens is different.

Stress cardiomyopathy can cause troponin — a protein found in the heart muscles — to leak, which can damage the heart muscle over time.

A heart attack, on the other hand, occurs when there’s an artery blockage that prevents blood from moving to or from the heart muscle. If left untreated, the heart muscle cells can die. This can create permanent damage, including scar tissue.

Symptoms of stress cardiomyopathy can come on suddenly after a stressful event, or they may occur several hours after the event.

Common symptoms can include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or palpitations
  • chest pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fainting or losing consciousness
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • drop in blood pressure

Because stress cardiomyopathy shares many of the same symptoms as a heart attack, seek medical attention right away for the best chance of recovery.

The exact cause of stress cardiomyopathy is uncertain.

A 2018 review suggests that stress hormones might be to blame. When triggered, these hormones can suddenly release, stunning the heart and causing it to temporarily stop functioning properly. This effect may create a stress-induced cardiomyopathy event.

An unexpected stressful event can lead to stress cardiomyopathy. Generally, either a physical or an emotional stressor can cause an occurrence. In rare cases, both types may factor in at once.

Physical triggers can include:

  • serious illness
  • surgery or other medical procedures
  • certain medications
  • physical trauma
  • sudden pain
  • sudden drop in blood pressure
  • low blood pressure

Emotional triggers may include:

  • loss or grief
  • fear
  • conflict
  • emotional trauma
  • sudden shock or surprise
  • unexpected job loss
  • anger or violence
  • natural disasters

A 2019 study suggests that physical stressors — such as surgery, medication, or a nervous system condition — might be more commonly linked to stress induced cardiomyopathy versus emotional stressors.

However, a 2016 study suggests that more than 28% of people who’ve experienced stress cardiomyopathy had no triggers at all.

A healthcare professional will likely examine your heart to make sure there aren‘t any blockages or abnormalities that might suggest a heart attack or other life threatening event.

They’ll look for markers of stress cardiomyopathy, most notably whether there’s any ballooning in your heart’s left ventricle.

To confirm a diagnosis, they may perform one or several tests, including:

  • blood tests
  • electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • echocardiography
  • cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • cardiac angiogram

In a 2018 review, researchers found that a definite diagnosis may not be possible when symptoms first strike. Because of the similarities between a stress myopathy and a heart attack, it’s important to be sure that the condition is reversible and not causing permanent damage to the heart.

Most cases of stress cardiomyopathy heal with treatment, with up to 96% of people fully recovering and experiencing no long-term heart damage, according to 2014 research.

Seeking treatment immediately is key to recovering from this condition. Your treatment options will vary based on your symptoms.

Common medications used to treat stress cardiomyopathy include:

  • beta-blockers
  • angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • anticoagulants or blood thinners
  • diuretics

Anti-anxiety medications may also be prescribed to help curb stress and prevent future episodes as the heart recovers.

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) or lifestyle changes might also be recommended. A follow-up appointment might be scheduled to make sure you’ve recovered and you don’t have any other conditions causing heart problems.

Stress cardiomyopathy can be life threatening and cause long-term damage to your heart.

In addition to receiving medical treatment, it’s important to practice self-care to help manage your stress and lower your chance of recurrence.

There are many ways to ease stress, including:

There are many other approaches to managing stress, and not everything will work for every person. Understanding what your specific triggers are and exploring what works best for your lifestyle can help you find the right method of stress relief for you.

Stress cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that’s typically brought on by a sudden and unexpected physical or emotional stressor. Also known as broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, this condition can affect anyone of any age.

This condition can create uncomfortable symptoms, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, and dizziness. It may require admission to the hospital. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

The earliest you can see a healthcare professional for treatment, the better your chances of recovery.

A healthcare professional may refer you to a cardiologist, or heart specialist, for further evaluation and treatment. If you’re not sure where to start, the American Heart Association provides some guidance about finding the right doctor.