Mend a Broken Heart, literally

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – For people who suffer from so-called “broken heart syndrome,” the long-term outlook is excellent and nearly all patients have full recovery of heart function, doctors from Rhode Island report.

Broken heart syndrome was first described by Japanese researchers in the early 1990s. Symptoms typically mimic a heart attack and tend to occur soon after an intense physical or emotional event. Experts think these symptoms may be brought on by the heart’s reaction to a surge of stress hormones, like adrenaline, causing a part of the heart to temporarily weaken or become stunned.

 However, based on the experience of Dr. Richard Regnante from Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence and colleagues, it appears that broken heart syndrome is temporary and completely reversible.

Source: American Journal of Cardiology, April 1, 2009.

They created a registry of 70 patients with the syndrome, known medically as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, who were diagnosed between July 2004 and April 2008. Two-thirds of the patients – nearly all post-menopausal women – had experienced a very stressful physical or emotional event just before arriving at the hospital with heart attack-like symptoms, including chest pain and shortness of breath.

Although 20 percent of these patients were critically ill and required emergency treatment to keep them alive, all patients survived the first 48 hours and experienced a full and complete recovery.

“It can be difficult for cardiologists and ER physicians to diagnose and manage patients with broken heart syndrome,” Regnante said in a prepared statement. “However, these data will help us better understand the disease process and could play a major role in developing and tailoring more effective short- and long-term treatment strategies.”

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