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By Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D.
Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is triggered by sudden emotional distress due to feelings like shock, fear, and sadness. Elevated stress hormones can weaken the heart and produce symptoms like chest pain, irregular heartbeats, and shortness of breath, mimicking a heart attack. No matter the cause, it’s critical that you get checked out right away if you’re experiencing symptoms that could signal a heart attack.
What’s the difference between a heart attack and stress-induced cardiomyopathy? Your doctor will perform a series of tests, and the results for those diagnosed with stress-induced cardiomyopathy will show no signs of blocked arteries typical in a heart attack patient. The condition may cause irregular heartbeats and weakened heart muscles that inhibit proper blood flow throughout the body. Fortunately, recovery is much quicker than that of a heart attack: days or weeks instead of months.
Women, adults over the age of 50, and those with existing mental health disorders like anxiety and depression are most at risk for developing broken heart syndrome. Treatment for a broken heart may start with mental health. Those with chronic stress or mental health conditions can benefit from steps to treat those conditions to prevent future episodes of stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe a beta blocker or other medication that can help control the effects of stress hormones in your body.
Bottom line: if you’re having heart attack symptoms, don’t shrug it off. You should seek medical care immediately so a doctor can see what’s going on. It could save your life.
Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D. is the president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.
(For more Office Visit columns by Dr. Cunningham, visit The Journal Record.)
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