Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, is a type of non-ischemic cardiomyopathy in which there is a sudden temporary weakening of the muscular portion of the heart. This weakening may be triggered by emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one, a break-up, rejection from a partner or constant anxiety. This leads to one of the common names, broken heart syndrome. Stress cardiomyopathy is now a well-recognized cause of acute congestive heart failure, lethal abnormal heart rhythms, and rupture of the heart wall.
A sudden massive surge of catecholamines such as adrenaline and norepinephrine from extreme stress or a tumor secreting these chemicals is thought to play a central role. This adrenaline surge triggers the arteries to tighten, thereby raising blood pressure and placing more stress on the heart, and may lead to spasm of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This impairs the arteries from delivering adequate blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle. Together, these events can lead to congestive heart failure and decrease the heart's output of blood with each squeeze.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy occurs worldwide. The condition is thought to be responsible for 2% of all acute coronary syndrome cases presenting to hospitals. It occurs more commonly in postmenopausal women. The name "takotsubo" comes from the Japanese word takotsubo "octopus trap", because the left ventricle of the heart takes on a shape resembling an octopus trap when affected by this condition.
Signs and symptoms
The typical presentation of takotsubo cardiomyopathy is chest pain associated with electrocardiogram (ECG) changes mimicking a myocardial infarction of the anterior wall. During the course of evaluation of the patient, a bulging out of the left ventricular apex with a hypercontractile base of the left ventricle is often noted. It is the hallmark bulging-out of the apex of the heart with preserved function of the base that earned the syndrome its name takotsubo "octopus trap", in Japan, where it was first described.
Stress is the main factor in takotsubo cardiomyopathy, with more than 85% of cases set in motion by either a physically or emotionally stressful event that prefaces the start of symptoms. Examples of emotional stressors include grief from the death of a loved one, fear of public speaking, arguing with a spouse, relationship disagreements, betrayal, and financial problems. Acute asthma, surgery, chemotherapy, and stroke are examples of physical stressors. In a few cases, the stress may be a happy event, such as a wedding, winning a jackpot, a sporting triumph, or a birthday.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is more commonly seen in postmenopausal women. Often there is a history of a recent severe (usually negative, sometimes happy) emotional or physical stress.
The cause of takotsubo cardiomyopathy is not fully understood, but several mechanisms have been proposed.
- Transient vasospasm: Some of the original researchers of takotsubo suggested that multiple simultaneous spasms of coronary arteries could cause enough loss of blood flow to cause transient stunning of the myocardium. Other researchers have shown that vasospasm is much less common than initially thought. It has been noted that when there are vasospasms, even in multiple arteries, that they do not correlate with the areas of myocardium that are not contracting.
- Microvascular dysfunction: The theory gaining the most traction is that there is dysfunction of the coronary arteries at the level where they are no longer visible by coronary angiography. This could include microvascular vasospasm, however, it may well have some similarities to diseases such as diabetes mellitus. In such disease conditions the microvascular arteries fail to provide adequate oxygen to the myocardium.
- Mid-ventricular obstruction, apical stunning: It has been suggested that a mid-ventricular wall thickening with outflow obstruction is important in the pathophysiology.
- Catecholamine-induced myocyte injury: It has been suggested that the response to catecholamines (such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, released in response to stress) leads to heart muscle dysfunction that contributes to takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
It is likely that there are multiple factors at play that could include some amount of vasospasm and a failure of the microvasculature Case series looking at large groups of patients report that some patients develop takotsubo cardiomyopathy after an emotional stress, while others have a preceding clinical stressor (such as an asthma attack or sudden illness). Roughly one-third of patients have no preceding stressful event. A 2009 large case series from Europe found that takotsubo cardiomyopathy was slightly more frequent during the winter season. This may be related to two possible/suspected pathophysiological causes: coronary spasms of microvessels, which are more prevalent in cold weather, and viral infections – such as Parvovirus B19 – which occur more frequently during the winter.
A 2019 case involved a 60 year-old woman presenting with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy due to over-consumption of wasabi, mistaking it for avocado.
Transient apical ballooning syndrome or takotsubo cardiomyopathy is found in 1.7–2.2% of patients presenting with acute coronary syndrome. While the original case studies reported on individuals in Japan, takotsubo cardiomyopathy has been noted more recently in the United States and Western Europe. It is likely that the syndrome previously went undiagnosed before it was described in detail in the Japanese literature. Evaluation of individuals with takotsubo cardiomyopathy typically includes a coronary angiogram to rule out occlusion of the left anterior descending artery, which will not reveal any significant blockages that would cause the left ventricular dysfunction. Provided that the individual survives their initial presentation, the left ventricular function improves within two months.
The diagnosis of takotsubo cardiomyopathy may be difficult upon presentation. The ECG findings often are confused with those found during an acute anterior wall myocardial infarction. It classically mimics ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, and is characterised by acute onset of transient ventricular apical wall motion abnormalities (ballooning) accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, ST-segment elevation, T-wave inversion or QT-interval prolongation on ECG. Cardiac enzymes are usually negative and are moderate at worst, and cardiac catheterization usually shows absence of significant coronary artery disease.
The diagnosis is made by the pathognomonic wall motion abnormalities, in which the base of the left ventricle is contracting normally or is hyperkinetic while the remainder of the left ventricle is akinetic or dyskinetic. This is accompanied by the lack of significant coronary artery disease that would explain the wall motion abnormalities. Although apical ballooning has been described classically as the angiographic manifestation of takotsubo, it has been shown that left ventricular dysfunction in this syndrome includes not only the classic apical ballooning, but also different angiographic morphologies such as mid-ventricular ballooning and, rarely, local ballooning of other segments.
The ballooning patterns were classified by Shimizu et al. as takotsubo type for apical akinesia and basal hyperkinesia, reverse takotsubo for basal akinesia and apical hyperkinesia, mid-ventricular type for mid-ventricular ballooning accompanied by basal and apical hyperkinesia, and localised type for any other segmental left ventricular ballooning with clinical characteristics of takotsubo-like left ventricular dysfunction.
In short, the main criteria for the diagnosis of takotsubo cardiomyopathy are: the patient must have experienced a stressor before the symptoms began to arise; the patient's ECG reading must show abnormalities from a normal heart; the patient must not show signs of coronary blockage or other common causes of heart troubles; the levels of cardiac enzymes in the heart must be elevated or irregular; and the patient must recover complete contraction and be functioning normally in a short amount of time.
Left ventriculography during systole showing apical ballooning akinesis with basal hyperkinesis in a characteristic takotsubo ventricle
Left ventriculogram during systole displaying the characteristic apical ballooning with apical motionlessness in a patient with takotsubo cardiomyopathy
(A) Echocardiogram showing dilatation of the left ventricle in the acute phase (B) Resolution of left ventricular function on repeat echocardiogram six days later
ECG showing sinus tachycardia and non-specific ST and T wave changes from a person with confirmed takotsubo cardiomyopathy
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Echocardiogram showing the effects of the disease
The treatment of takotsubo cardiomyopathy is generally supportive in nature, for it is considered a transient disorder. Treatment is dependent on whether patients experience heart failure or acute hypotension and shock. In many individuals, left ventricular function normalizes within two months. Aspirin and other heart drugs also appear to help in the treatment of this disease, even in extreme cases. After the patient has been diagnosed, and myocardial infarction (heart attack) ruled out, the aspirin regimen may be discontinued, and treatment becomes that of supporting the patient.
While medical treatments are important to address the acute symptoms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy, further treatment includes lifestyle changes. It is important that the individual stay physically healthy while learning and maintaining methods to manage stress, and to cope with future difficult situations.
Although the symptoms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy usually go away on their own and the condition completely resolves itself within a few weeks, some serious complications can happen that must be treated. These most commonly include congestive heart failure and very low blood pressure, and less commonly include blood clotting in the apex of the left ventricle, irregular heart beat, and tearing of the heart wall.
For patients in acute heart failure, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and beta blockers, are considered mainstays of heart failure treatment. But use of beta blockers specifically for takotsubo cardiomyopathy is controversial, because they may confer no benefit.
Low blood pressure
For people with cardiogenic shock, medical treatment is based on whether a left ventricular outflow tract (LVOT) obstruction is present. Therefore, early echocardiography is necessary to determine proper management. For those with obstructed LVOTs inotropic agents should not be used, but instead should be managed like patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, (e.g. phenylephrine and fluid resuscitation). For cases in which the LVOT is not obstructed, inotropic therapy (e.g. dobutamine and dopamine) may be used, but with the consideration that takotsubo is caused by excess catecholamines.
Furthermore, mechanical support with an intra-aortic balloon pump (IABP) is well-established as supportive treatment.
Despite the grave initial presentation in some of the patients, most of the patients survive the initial acute event, with a very low rate of in-hospital mortality or complications. Once a patient has recovered from the acute stage of the syndrome, they can expect a favorable outcome and the long-term prognosis is excellent. Even when ventricular systolic function is heavily compromised at presentation, it typically improves within the first few days and normalises within the first few months. Although infrequent, recurrence of the syndrome has been reported and seems to be associated with the nature of the trigger.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is rare, affecting between 1.2% and 2.2% of people in Japan and 2% to 3% in Western countries who suffer a myocardial infarction. It also affects far more women than men with 90% of cases being women, most postmenopausal. Scientists believe one reason is that estrogen causes the release of catecholamine and glucocorticoid in response to mental stress. It is not likely for the same recovered patient to experience the syndrome twice, although it has happened in rare cases. The average ages at onset are between 58 and 75 years. Less than 3% of cases occurred in patients under age 50.
Rees, et al. wrote in 1967 that the death of a close relative increases the risk of dying within one year by a factor of seven.
Engel wrote about sudden and rapid death during psychological stress in 1971 and itemized 8 causation categories:  on the impact of the collapse or death of a close person;  during acute grief;  on threat of loss of a close person;  during mourning or on an anniversary;  on loss of status or self-esteem;  personal danger or threat of injury;  after the danger is over;  reunion, triumph, or happy ending. He proposed these events provoke neurovegetative responses, involving both the flight-fight and conservation-withdrawal systems, conducive to lethal cardiac events, particularly in individuals with preexisting cardiovascular disease.
Although the first scientific description of takotsubo cardiomyopathy was not until the 1990s, Cebelin and Hirsch wrote about human stress cardiomyopathy in 1980. The two looked at homicidal assaults that had happened in Cuyahoga County, Ohio the past 30 years, specifically those with autopsies who had no internal injury, but had died of physical assault. They found that 11 of 15 had myofibrillar degeneration similar to animal stress studies. In the end, they concluded their data supported "the theory of catecholamine mediation of these myocardial changes in man and of the lethal potential of stress through its effect on the heart".
The first studied case of takotsubo cardiomyopathy was in Japan in 1991 by Sato et al. More cases of the syndrome appeared in Japan within the next decade, although western medicine had still not acknowledged it. The syndrome finally occurred in 1997 when Pavin et al. wrote about two cases of "reversible LV dysfunction precipitated by acute emotional stress." The western world had not heard of such a thing at the time, as it was incredibly rare and often misdiagnosed. The Japanese at last reported about the syndrome to the west in 2001 under the name "transient LV apical ballooning" though at this point the west had already heard of numerous cases. The syndrome reached international audiences through the media in 2005 when the New England Journal of Medicine wrote about the syndrome.