Octopus Heart – Takotsubo
Takotsubo is a condition of the heart that closely mimics a heart attack without the presence of an actual blockage.
While traditional heart attacks are generally caused by a physical blockage of an artery resulting from plaque buildup, these types of heart attacks occur from sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart produced by a surge of stress hormones. X-rays of Takotsubo patients reveal a bulging of the left ventricle created by increased levels of fight-or-flight hormones such as adrenaline and epinephrine.
Drawing media attention in the month of February, and on Valentine's Day, this condition is often referred to as Broken Heart Syndrome because of its connection to lost love. First discovered in Japan, it is also termed Octopus Heart, as the ballooning of the left ventricle of the heart takes the shape of the "Tako-tsubo," a pot used by Japanese fishermen to trap octopus.
Most commonly occurring in post-menopausal women, this stress cardiomyopathy, or sudden weakening of the heart, is often triggered by the unexpected death of a loved one, a relationship break-up, a startling medical diagnosis or a severely stressful emotional situation. Most patients survive this type of heart attack with a rapid recovery of about one week to full health, and no lasting side effects, as the patient is generally in good health and lacks physical indications of heart problems; thus the mystery behind this condition.
Takotsubo mimics a heart attack with similar symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. It should be treated as a serious medical emergency - dial 911 immediately.
Some side effects of the condition may include an irregular heart beat and fluid in the lungs. A short hospital stay may be necessary to monitor these symptoms. A second occurrence of Takotsubo is also a risk, particularly if the patient is still experiencing an increased amount of stress.
- Female - 9 out of 10 cases are women
- Over the age of 50
- Recent life stress
Testing and Diagnosis
- Physical Exam - to check for any signs of heart disease and examine the patient's overall health
- Electrocardiogram (EKG) - sensors placed on the chest to monitor heart rhythm
- Chest X-ray - to view the heart for irregular swelling and shape
- Echocardiogram - an ultrasound of the chest to view the heart and its functioning
- Blood Test - Takotsubo patients have increased amounts of specific enzymes
Many diagnosis of Takotsubo are performed in an emergency setting, however, if the appointment is made ahead of time and symptoms can be explained in detail, it can be helpful. Patient journals of stress and symptoms should be detailed as to the types of symptoms experienced, as well as the emotional state of the patient before, during and after.
Because this condition may first appear to be a traditional heart attack, it is treated as such until a diagnosis is confirmed. Treatments used for arterial blockage, such as angioplasty or stent placement, which would be performed for a regular heart attack, will not help patients suffering from Takotsubo. Blood pressure medications may be prescribed as the patient recovers in the hospital and beta-blockers are sometimes used long-term to help reduce the effect of stress hormones on the heart muscle. A one-week hospital stay to monitor a complete recovery is often the extent of the treatment required.