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Broken Heart Syndrome: Care Instructions

A normal heart and a heart with broken heart syndrome

Your Care Instructions

With broken heart syndrome, the heart has trouble pumping blood normally. A chamber of the heart swells up like a small balloon. Broken heart syndrome is also called takotsubo (say "TACK-uh-zoo-boh") syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy (say "kar-dee-oh-my-AWP-uh-thee").

Broken heart syndrome is often triggered by great emotional stress, such as grief after losing a loved one. It can also be triggered by physical stress, such as having a serious health problem. Sometimes the cause is not known.

Broken heart syndrome causes the same symptoms as a heart attack, but it's not a heart attack. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Sudden chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fainting.

Other symptoms may include a pounding or fast heartbeat, nausea, or vomiting.

A heart attack is caused by a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries. These arteries supply the heart muscle with blood. But broken heart syndrome isn't caused by blocked coronary arteries.

You will likely take medicines for a short time to help your heart muscle recover. These may include medicines that make it easier for your heart to pump blood. Some people may need to take medicines long-term.

In most people, the heart starts pumping normally again within a few days or weeks. For some people, it can take several months to return to normal.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • If you take a blood thinner, be sure to get instructions about how to take your medicine safely. Blood thinners can cause serious bleeding problems.
  • Lead a heart-healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips:
    • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for moderate to vigorous activity at least 2½ hours a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.
    • Do not smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
    • Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat and salt and is full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
    • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse symptoms, such as:
    • New or increased shortness of breath.
    • New or worse swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
    • Sudden weight gain, such as more than 1 to 1.3 kilograms in a day or 2.5 kilograms in a week. (Your doctor may suggest a different range of weight gain.)
    • Feeling dizzy or light-headed or like you may faint.
    • Feeling so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.
    • Not sleeping well. Shortness of breath wakes you at night. You need extra pillows to prop yourself up to breathe easier.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.