Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a rare, temporary ailment that has similar symptoms to a heart attack. Unlike a heart attack, however, takotsubo cardiomyopathy does not involve restricted blood flow. The heart instead receives a flood of stress hormones that causes ballooning of the left ventricle, chest pains, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat. An especially stressful physical or emotional situation, such as a traumatic injury or the sudden death of a family member, can set off an attack. The condition is not life-threatening in most cases, and the majority of patients are able to fully recover within a few weeks of an episode.
The exact causes of takotsubo cardiomyopathy are not known, but research suggests that stress hormones such as adrenalin play key roles. A surge of hormones is released into the bloodstream during or immediately after a traumatic event. When they reach the heart, the left ventricle becomes overwhelmed and temporarily weakened or paralyzed. The result is a sudden pause in blood pumping that triggers heart attack-like symptoms. Female patients are much more likely to experience takotsubo cardiomyopathy than males, and the majority of sufferers are middle-aged or elderly.
The first symptoms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy may include weakness, breathing difficulties, and a sharp pain in the chest. A person may also start to sweat, feel dizzy and nauseous, and possibly faint. The heartbeat may be unusually fast, slow, or irregular. Rarely, symptoms can become severe enough to cause sudden, life-threatening heart or lung failure.
Most patients who are eventually diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy are treated for heart attacks when they are brought to emergency rooms. Fortunately for sufferers, standard heart attack treatments are also effective in improving acute symptoms of the less serious disease. Aspirin and beta blockers are commonly given to improve heart rhythm and blood flow. A precise diagnosis can be made once the patient is stable. X-rays, ultrasounds, and electrocardiograms allow doctors to check for signs of heart attack or the characteristic left ventricle ballooning of takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Most patients who are treated for takotsubo cardiomyopathy are able to leave the hospital in less than one week. They may be prescribed short courses of oral medications to ensure their stress levels and blood pressures remain stable. Several follow-up visits in the months following an episode are important to make sure that permanent damage has not occurred. Most people do not have lasting health issues following treatment, and the risk of a recurring attack is very low.