The left ventricle is the main blood-pumping chamber of your heart. When the heart muscle in this chamber squeezes, oxygen-rich blood is pumped out of the heart to supply the organs and tissues of your body.

In takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TC), part of the left ventricle temporarily changes shape and becomes larger, often in response to intense emotional or physical stress. When this happens, it’s harder for your heart to pump blood effectively.

The condition was first described in 1990 and gets its name from a type of Japanese octopus trap (takotsubo). The shape of the left ventricle in people with this type of cardiomyopathy appears similar to these traps.

You may also see TC referred to as:

  • broken heart syndrome
  • stress cardiomyopathy
  • apical ballooning syndrome

We don’t know the true number of cases of TC. It’s estimated to happen in 1 to 2 percent of people with suspected acute coronary syndrome, a group of conditions, such as heart attack, where blood flow to the heart is cut off.

TC mainly affects older adults. It’s much more common in people assigned female at birth. In fact, this group makes up about 90 percent of all TC diagnoses.

Extreme physical and emotional stress can bring on TC. However, almost 30 percent of people will have no identifiable trigger. Some examples of potential triggers for TC include:

  • the death of a loved one
  • financial loss
  • a severe illness
  • a recent surgery
  • an accident or serious physical injury
  • physical assault or domestic abuse
  • natural disasters
  • the COVID-19 pandemic

The exact physical mechanism behind TC isn’t known. One theory is that stress causes the release of large amounts of hormones like adrenaline, which then disrupt the function of the left ventricle.

The most common symptoms of TC include intense chest pain and shortness of breath that come on suddenly.

Some other symptoms that people with TC may experience are:

Is takotsubo cardiomyopathy a kind of heart attack?

The symptoms of TC closely resemble those of a heart attack. In fact, many people with this condition are initially thought to be having a heart attack.

However, despite having similar symptoms, the mechanisms behind these two conditions are different.

TC happens when the left ventricle changes its shape and becomes larger, typically in response to stress. A heart attack happens when blood flow to a part of the heart has been cut off, often due to the effects of heart disease.

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The diagnosis of TC involves ruling out heart attack and other heart conditions. While a doctor takes your medical history, they may ask if you’ve gone through an intense period of stress lately.

Some of the tests that doctors may use are:

  • electrocardiogram (EKG), a test that measures the electrical activity in your heart
  • echocardiogram, a type of ultrasound that lets your doctor view the structure of your heart, including its valves and chambers
  • blood tests for things like troponin, BNP, and creatine kinase, which may be elevated with some heart conditions
  • heart MRI scan, which can also give your doctor a more detailed view of your heart’s structure
  • angiogram, a procedure that combines the use of X-rays and a special dye from a catheter threaded to your heart to show blood flow through your heart’s blood vessels

Imaging tests can show the changes in structure that happen with TC. Additionally, an angiogram can help rule out a blockage of blood flow in the heart as the cause of your symptoms.

There’s no standard treatment for TC. A 2020 review article on the condition also notes that there have been no clinical trials to evaluate different treatment options for TC.

However, a doctor may prescribe some medications to help you with recovery. These can include:

There are several potential complications of TC. Some can be potentially serious and may include:

Now let’s answer some of the remaining questions you may have about TC.

Can you die from takotsubo cardiomyopathy?

Yes, it’s possible to die from TC. Some estimates have put the mortality rate for TC at about 4.1 percent.

How long does it take to heal from takotsubo cardiomyopathy?

Most people recover completely from TC. It’s estimated that about 95 percent of people with TC will have full heart function within several weeks.

Can anxiety cause takotsubo cardiomyopathy?

Since TC can be brought on by intense emotional stress, it’s possible for anxiety to lead to an episode.

A 2015 study found that rates of mental health conditions, including anxiety, were higher in people with TC than in those with acute coronary syndrome.

Is takotsubo cardiomyopathy permanent?

Many people who have TC won’t have another episode. However, recurrences can happen weeks or even years later. It’s estimated that about 5 percent of people with TC will have a recurrence.

Can takotsubo cardiomyopathy be prevented?

There’s no definite way to prevent TC. However, some things may help.

If you have chronic (long-term) stress, a doctor may recommend finding effective ways to reduce your stress levels. They may also suggest managing any underlying mental health conditions like anxiety.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a heart condition where your left ventricle temporarily changes its shape and gets larger. It’s typically brought on by severe physical or emotional stress.

The symptoms of TC closely resemble those of a heart attack. Because of this, diagnosis involves ruling out a heart attack or other heart conditions as the cause of your symptoms.

There’s no standard treatment for TC, although doctors may prescribe medications to help with recovery. Although complications can happen, most people regain full heart function and recurrences are rare.