Broken heart syndrome is also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It is generally a temporary heart condition often brought on by extreme emotional stress.
People with broken heart syndrome may have sudden chest pain or believe they are having a heart attack. It is characterised by a temporary enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle, which is often triggered by extreme physical or emotional stress. The remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions.
While Takotsubo cardiomyopathy typically resolves within a month or two, it can result in serious complications, such as heart failure, life-threatening arrhythmias, and stroke. As many as one in four patients with broken heart syndrome have some form of arrhythmia, while between one to seven percent suffer cardiac arrest.
Many patients with broken heart syndrome are diagnosed in the lab when doctors see there are no blockages in the artery, or imaging reveals changes in the shape of the heart that are characteristic of the syndrome.
It is thought the episodes are caused by the sympathetic response and surges of adrenaline in the body, similar to the fight-or-flight reaction.