A broken heart is a real condition, and this is what it looks li

These are two examples of hearts with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The heart is said to take on the shape of a Japanese Octopus Jar. (Photo courtesy the American Heart Association.)

A broken heart is a real condition, and this is what it looks like

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

In our search for the perfect partner, a parting of ways can be devastating.

"Horrible" and "painful" are among two of the words people we talked with used to describe a break up.

And then there are the after-effects like loss of appetite and depression.

Broken hearts result from emotions impacting how our bodies function.

"Your brain is connected to everything, including that part of your nervous system. The fact that you have stress can contract blood vessels in your heart," said Dr. Charles Lambert, a cardiologist at Florida Hospital Tampa's Pepin Heart Center. He's treated "broken hearts," and without special imaging, it's easy to miss.

The condition is called "Takotsubo cardiomyopathy." It's Japanese, named after a jar used to trap an octopus. The bottom of the heart muscle becomes weak and can't effectively pump blood; the top of the heart continues to contract, creating a jar-like shape during a cardiac catheterization or echocardiogram.

"When you see one of these hearts on an echocardiogram, it's diagnostic, just the way the left ventricle looks in the pictures," Lambert said.

He shows us how the darker blood inside takes on the shape of another sea creature: "it looks like a squid."

Takotsubo is triggered by adrenaline or epinephrine -- lots of it. Studies show levels as high as 34 times normal, and up to three times higher than patients who have suffered a heart attack.

That outpouring of adrenaline is often in response to a traumatic event, like the death of a loved one. However, Takotsubo doesn't just effect people who lose their mate. Any traumatic, stressful event can set the stage for the cardiac condition.

"The top ones are death and divorce and employment issues. You lose your job," Dr. Lambert explains.

Other triggers include emotional stressors, like a confrontational argument, catastrophic medical diagnosis, armed robbery, car accident, public performance, gambling loss, earthquake, and even happy events, like a surprise party or reunion.

Physical stress can also play a role including invasive medical procedures, collapsed lung, cold exposure, exhausting physical effort and a worsening medical problem like an asthma attack.

Symptoms resemble a heart attack and can include shortness of breath and chest pain.

Takotsubo has been around a long time, but Dr. Lambert says it's only been in the past decade or so that doctors have begun to recognize and report it. Many believe it was missed in the past, accounting for about one to two percent of all cases of suspected heart attacks.

The condition happens most often in post-menopausal women over the age of 65. Dr. Lambert believes there is probably underlying disease in the smaller heart vessels resulting in spasm, and lack of blood flow to the apex or tip of the heart.

That temporary lack of blood supply causes a stunning effect that eventually reverses itself with time. Other researchers have focused on adrenaline and its direct effect on the muscle cells -- comparing how they look under the microscope to the hearts of people with adrenaline-secreting tumors.

No matter the cause, conditions like high blood pressure, smoking and cholesterol may also increase risk.

The good news is that almost all patients diagnosed with the condition get better with treatment and time. Only a handful of recurrent Takotsubos have been reported.

The most common complications are heart failure and pulmonary edema, or fluid build-up in the lungs. There have been some fatal complications, including rupture of the heart wall.

It's easier to ignore symptoms when in distress. That makes knowing the symptoms even more important when it comes to a broken heart.

 

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FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Pepin Heart Institute
https://www.floridahospital.com/tampa/cardiovascular

Critical Care Nurse: The "Broken Heart Syndrome"
http://ccn.aacnjournals.org/content/29/1/49.full

Takotsubo American Heart Association

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