Heart

How can you mend a broken heart? In part, with familiar medications

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Broken Heart Image
Beta blockers and ace inhibitors can mend a broken heart.

Having a broken heart may sound like the stuff of countless movies and songs, but it is a literal, very real condition, according to UT Southwestern cardiologist Sharon Reimold, M.D.

The exact cause of broken heart syndrome, also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is not fully understood, she says. The condition is characterized by a sudden weakening of the left heart ventricle, the chamber that pumps blood to all parts of the body. Its main symptoms are chest pain or tightness and shortness of breath.

Many doctors believe it can be triggered by mental or physical stress or a traumatic event, such as the death of a spouse, or something that causes the patient to worry. Because it primarily affects older women, some have hypothesized that the condition may be linked to estrogen levels.

While the syndrome’s exact frequency is unknown, most studies suggest it affects 1 to 2 percent of patients who have symptoms similar to a blockage of blood supply to the heart.

“Many patients with the condition believe they are having a heart attack, but when we do our examination we find no blockages in the heart vessels,” Dr. Reimold says. “Fortunately, very few people die from broken heart syndrome. It’s often a scary situation for the patient and his or her family, but many patients recover without any lasting damage.”

To treat the condition, doctors prescribe the same kinds of medications as they would for a patient who has had a heart attack: beta blockers and ace inhibitors. Doctors also help patients work through situations that are causing them stress.

“We’ve found that this combination of removing the stressor and prescribing medication often helps the patient’s heart function return to normal,” Dr. Reimold says.

To schedule an appointment with a UT Southwestern heart specialist, call 214-645-8300.

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