A Bandage for Your Heart

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‘Broken heart syndrome’ is now a recognised medical condition. The syndrome arises when physical or emotional stress— often the death of a loved one—causes ‘concussion’ of the heart. The symptoms are similar to acute coronary syndrome: chest pain and shortness of breath (dyspnoea), but the good news is that the condition is reversible. If you’re broken-hearted, normal function will resume within a few weeks. The hallmark of the condition is a balloon-like defect that appears in the left ventricle. The pattern this makes gives the name by which the condition was first described: takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The balloon-like defect is supposed to resemble a takotsubo—an 'octopus pot' historically used to catch octopus in Japan. The condition is triggered by acute emotional or physical trauma that releases a surge of adrenaline that overwhelms the heart. The effect is to freeze much of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber, disrupting its ability to contract and effectively pump blood. An estimated 12,000 people in the US suffered the condition in 2007, mostly post-menopausal women.