Broken Heart Syndrome: A Different Kind of Heart Attack


This Valentine’s Day, you may treat a few broken-hearted patients. As a medical student, you may know that a broken heart is an actual medical condition called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, with around 7,000 diagnosed cases per year in the United States. One notable case occurred last year, when Debbie Reynolds passed away just one day after the death of her daughter, actress, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia - Star Wars). While Reynold’s cause of death was determined to be a stroke, her condition was induced by extreme stress (the loss of her daughter), which led to a temporary disruption of the heart’s normal pumping function.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, named after a Japanese octopus trap, primarily affects elderly women. The first reported takotsubo cardiomyopathy case in the United States was recorded in 1998. Symptoms include sudden, intense chest pain and shortness of breath, which is often mistaken for a myocardial infarction. Unlike a myocardial infarction, there is usually no evidence for obstructive coronary artery disease. In most cases, the effects of broken heart syndrome reverse quickly without any lasting damage to the heart. 

To prepare yourself for the wards this Valentine’s Day, test your broken heart knowledge with these five cardiomyopathy-specific questions.