Wed, Aug 08, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Doctor researches broken hearts

LIKE A HEART ATTACK:Doctor Lin Pan says that in rare cases of emotional distress, a person with a healthy heart can suffer symptoms similar to a myocardial infarction

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

A woman hospitalized for emergency treatment after a suspected heart attack has been diagnosed as actually suffering from a rarely seen illness known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which is also called “broken heart syndrome,” because it is often brought about as a result of extreme emotional distress.

The syndrome is characterized by the sudden and temporary weakening of muscles in the heart, which cause the left ventricular chamber to dysfunction and can be caused by a variety of mental pressures, including losing a loved one, constant anxiety or the break-up of a relationship.

According to doctor Lin Pan (林攀) at Kuang Tien General Hospital’s Cardiology department, the 65-year-old woman surnamed Chiang (蔣) had lost her husband only two weeks prior to the incident and had been in constant mourning, which may have led to the attack.

Lin said that when Chiang was sent to the emergency room, the initial diagnosis of the syndrome — based on the woman’s symptoms and the results of her electrocardiography (ECG) chart — was that she was suffering from acute coronary syndrome — a series of symptoms that collectively refer to the congestion of the coronary arteries.

However, after a cardiac catheterization process was carried out, Lin found that her arteries were not closed up, nor were they clogged with blood clots, which is usual in victims of acute coronary syndrome.

After reviewing the health of the woman’s left ventricular chamber, a process that involves injecting dyes into the organ that can be seen using X-rays, they discovered that the woman had contracted “broken heart syndrome.”

Given the rarity of the malady and the similarities its symptoms share with acute coronary syndrome, as well as the results of the ECG, diagnoses should be supported by catheterization, ventriculography or ultrasonography, Lin said.

Currently the medical field has very little understanding of “broken heart syndrome,” Lin said.

It is commonly believed that in those who suffer from the rare affliction, the number of sympathicus receptors located in the bottom of the left ventricle differ from the ventricular apex and when the patient is emotionally distraught, stressed, scared or in great pain, there is a significant decrease in blood output, resulting in the patient developing symptoms similar to acute coronary syndrome.

Lin said that having participated in the catheterization of patients with acute coronary syndrome over the past two years, he had seen five cases of what he suspected was “broken heart syndrome.”

All five patients — four women and one man — had successfully convalesced after adequate treatment, with all patients recovering at least 80 percent of their heart function.

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