-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- "Broken heart syndrome" --
a temporary form of acute heart failure caused by a sudden
weakening of the heart muscle -- may affect more people than
previously thought, a new study suggests.
This condition, also known as "stress cardiomyopathy," usually
affects postmenopausal women and is typically triggered by a
profoundly stressful event, such as a break-up, domestic abuse or
the unexpected death of a loved one. In this study, however,
researchers found this condition may also develop in younger
people, men and even those who cannot identify an a precipitating
Researchers analyzed 256 stress cardiomyopathy patients in seven
tertiary care centers in both Europe and North America over the
course of five years. The vast majority (81 percent) of the study's
participants were postmenopausal women; 8 percent were 50 or
younger, and men accounted for 11 percent of the cases.
In 71 percent of the patients, the researchers identified a
significantly stressful event less than 48 hours before the
development of the heart condition. Of those cases, 30 percent of
the triggers involved emotional stress, and 41 percent were the
result of physical stress. At the time of treatment, 87 percent of
patients had abnormal electrocardiograms (tests that record the
electrical activity in the heart to identify those at risk for
Although they found clearly identifiable stressors in just
two-thirds of patients, the researchers pointed out previous
studies reported such emotional or physical triggers in up to 89
percent of those with broken heart syndrome.
"Our large multi-center cohort demonstrates that the absence of an identifiable stressful event does not rule out the diagnosis, and, hence, precipitating mechanisms may be more complex, such as involvement of vascular, endocrine and central nervous systems," the study's authors wrote in a journal news release.
Moreover, the researchers revealed coronary angiography (a
common heart imaging test) showed healthy coronary arteries in 75
percent of the patients.
In addition, cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging
allowed the researchers to diagnose stress cardiomyopathy through
symptoms such as a swelling of the heart, a distinct appearance of
the moving heart muscle known as ballooning patterns, reduced
function in the patients' left ventricle, markers for heart
inflammation and the absence of dead tissue or excess connective
The researchers noted that CMR imaging may provide specific
clues to help doctors diagnose and manage stress cardiomyopathy
earlier. The reduced function in the left ventricle, for example,
is generally reversible.
The study's authors concluded the broader range of people that
could develop stress cardiomyopathy could make the condition more
difficult to detect than previously thought. Greater awareness of
their findings, they pointed out, is critical for the proper
diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
The study was published in the July 20 issue of
The National Institutes of Health provides more information on
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