It is almost impossible to believe that someone can die or have an attack because of a broken heart. But severe stress due to deep emotional trauma, natural or man-made disasters, and physical trauma due to accidents or illnesses can cause Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is named after an octopus trap. And what makes this condition more unusual is the fact that women are the ones who are mostly affected by the condition.
According to international studies, more than 90 percent of the reported Takotsubo cases occur in women between the ages of 58 and 75. Five percent of the women evaluated for heart attack have this disorder. The first case was found in a woman in Japan in 1990.
Dr. Joey Montemayor, cardiologist and lawyer, said that cardiomyopathy is the weakening of the heart muscles. In Takotsubo, the left ventricle, which is the main pumping chamber of the heart, becomes weak during stressful situations. The primary symptoms are pain in the chest, shortness of breath and palpitation.
Montemayor said that adrenaline or surging stress hormones can affect the heart severely. Reduced estrogen levels could play a part, too, as it fails to protect the heart during extreme stress.
The heart muscle can become thick and enlarged, or rigid. When the condition worsens, the heart will have a hard time pumping blood throughout the body and can have an abnormal electrical rhythm.
Worse, the heart failure due to the above mentioned symptoms can cause fluid to build up in the body, particularly in the lungs, abdomen, and legs and feet.
Montemayor said severe emotional and stressful situations can contribute to Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, like losing a loved one; deep family problems, particularly involving violence, financial loss, intense fear; natural disaster or other emergency situations; sudden illness; or a serious accident.
Symptoms of Takotsubo are similar to a heart attack. Even the electrocardiogram may show the same abnormalities. What clinicians look for are: the absence of blockages in the coronary arteries; rapid and small rise in cardiac biomarkers which are released into the blood when the heart is damaged; and when the lower part of the left ventricle of the heart is bulging.
Montemayor said that some people are born with this condition, which could show up in their early years or when they enter adulthood. But most of the women who have been diagnosed with Takotsubo or broken heart syndrome are in their menopausal stages.
Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding alcoholic drinks and smoking, eating more fruits and vegetables, taking medicines (beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, diuretics), having surgery, implanting a pacemaker to correct the arrhythmia, can help control the symptoms of broken heart syndrome or prevent it from getting worse. Prayers and meditation during stressful situations can also help, says the cardiologist-lawyer.
Montemayor holds clinic at the Second Floor Legal Unit of the Philippine Heart Center every Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. to 12:00 noon. And at the Third Floor of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, Room 3210, daily from 1 to 5 p.m.
Radyo Klinika is a 2016 KBP Golden Dove awardee for Best Radio Magazine Program. It airs every Tuesday to Friday, 7 to 8 p.m. on Dwiz 882 KHZ AM, and on Facebook Page: Dwiz 882.