Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome, is a condition that can take its toll on the heart. Triggered by emotional stress, this rare syndrome can cause the heart muscle to suddenly weaken, leading to a range of symptoms from chest pain to shortness of breath, and even heart failure.
Sadly, the pandemic has only served to exacerbate the situation. Over the past two years, the number of reported cases of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy has significantly increased, due in no small part to the immense emotional stress and uncertainty caused by Covid. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of taking care of our mental health, particularly during times of crisis.
Difference between a normal heart and one with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy
The heart with this condition has a unique appearance that is often likened to a Japanese octopus trap, hence the name Takotsubo. As you can see in the image below, the left ventricle – the chamber responsible for pumping blood throughout the body – becomes enlarged and weakened, taking on an unusual shape that is markedly different from a healthy heart. This condition is often triggered by emotional stress and can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and even heart failure.
I had an attack in 2013
You can find a glimpse of my past, captured in the second and third images. These photos were taken back in 2013, just after I underwent a heart catheterisation procedure due to an attack of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. These images offer a striking visual representation of how the syndrome not only impacts the heart but also affects the body in its entirety.
The fourth image, captured in December 2022, is a vivid illustration of the contrasting outcomes of receiving medical attention in an urban hospital versus a rural one.
Sadly, there’s no way to prevent it
As someone who has personally faced the challenges of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, I can attest to the life-altering impact this condition can have. For me, the journey involved beta blockers, pacemakers, and extensive psychological counselling to overcome the emotional burden of the condition. I’m forever grateful for the support of my loved ones and the healthcare team that guided me through this difficult time.
While Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is often associated with postmenopausal women, it’s important to note that men and younger women can also be affected, along with those who have a history of neurological disorders and have experienced emotional or physical stress.
Contrary to popular belief, a history of heart disease is not a common factor among those with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. In fact, most individuals do not have any type of cardiomyopathy or heart disease. In my own experience, there were no signs of plaque or other heart issues. Instead, the distinguishing factor was the enlargement or stunning of the left ventricle.
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, taking steps to manage stress, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and seek medical attention for any symptoms is crucial. It’s essential to prioritise self-care and seek support from loved ones and healthcare professionals to navigate this challenging condition.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and the Covid pandemic
The Covid pandemic has brought about a surge in cases of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and it’s not hard to see why. The emotional toll of losing loved ones, and fear of contracting the virus (or worse), can take a significant toll on one’s health, leading to the development of this rare cardiac condition.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, adopting a healthy lifestyle, reducing stress and seeking medical attention if you experience any symptoms are crucial steps to take. As someone who has personally battled this condition, I urge anyone who suspects they may be having an attack to never hesitate and seek medical help immediately. Ignoring the symptoms can have severe consequences, both physically and emotionally.
The psychological effects
Although Takotsubo cardiomyopathy can have severe physical symptoms, the long-term psychological impact can also be distressing. Along with chest pain and shortness of breath, individuals may experience anxiety, depression, and a fear of dying.
It’s crucial for those who have experienced the syndrome to prioritise their mental health and seek assistance from qualified mental health professionals. Working with a therapist or counsellor can help individuals learn how to cope with the psychological aftermath, develop a more optimistic outlook, and cultivate resilience.
Resilience plays an important role
Resilience is a powerful tool that can help individuals overcome the physical and psychological effects of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It’s the ability to bounce back from adversity, adapt to difficult situations, and find ways to cope with stress. Building resilience can be likened to developing muscle; with practice and persistence, it can be strengthened and improved over time.
The first step in building resilience is recognising the physical symptoms of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat. Seeking medical attention immediately is crucial for preventing the condition from worsening and reducing the risk of long-term complications.
To build resilience, it’s important to focus on purpose, positivity and self-care. Set goals to find direction, reframe negative thoughts to stay optimistic, and prioritise exercise, meditation, and quality time with loved ones. These practices can help overcome the impact of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Although Takotsubo cardiomyopathy can have serious consequences, it’s essential to keep in mind that with the right approach, individuals can recover from its physical and psychological effects. By acknowledging the physical symptoms and seeking professional help, people can build resilience through self-care techniques and regain a sense of normalcy.
It’s vital to understand that there’s no shame in seeking assistance and that support is available for those who have experienced Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. You’re not alone in this journey.
Professor Vicki Gier teaches psychology at Mississippi State University-Meridian.