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Some people respond to sudden, strong emotional stress by releasing high levels of adrenaline and other chemicals into the bloodstream. According to a new study, this can cause stress cardiomyopathy, also called broken heart syndrome. People with this condition, which primarily affects older women, may require only short-term treatment until the heart recovers by itself.


Extended production and release of catecholamines and other chemicals can be toxic to the heart, resulting in chest pain, pulmonary edema, and cardiogenic shock. But with broken heart syndrome, blood tests and imaging studies, such as coronary angiography and serial echocardiograms, fail to show typical signs of myocardial infarction, such as irreversible muscle damage and high levels of certain enzymes.


Researchers say that by learning to recognize broken heart syndrome, clinicians can spare some patients unnecessary invasive procedures. However, researchers stress that the condition may still require aggressive treatment-particularly if the patient has underlying heart disease. Three of 19 patients in the study required implantation of an intra-aortic balloon pump to improve cardiac output.




Neurohumoral features of myocardial stunning due to sudden emotional stress, The New England Journal of Medicine, IS Wittstein, et al., February 10, 2005.