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Apical ballooning syndrome is a heart condition that can have serious repercussions if left untreated. It is classified as a type of cardiomyopathy, meaning a condition that affects the muscle of the heart; in this case, the main muscle of the heart is seriously weakened, which makes it hard for the heart to pump. This condition can cause symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, and often these symptoms are the first sign of a problem.
This condition was first identified in Japanese patients, and named Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. As the research slowly disseminated through the medical community, the term “apical ballooning syndrome” came to be more popular, as it very aptly describes what happens to the heart muscle. Colloquially, it is also known as “broken heart syndrome,” because the condition often manifests in response to severe stress.
In a patient with apical ballooning syndrome, the walls of the heart muscle balloon out as it fills with blood, causing the muscle to be weakened substantially. In a scan of the chest area, a distinctive bulge at the base of the heart can be identified. Patients may experience chest pains, an irregular heartbeat, and shock as the flow of blood to the body is interrupted and the heart has trouble beating.
Treatment typically involves the use of stabilizing medications, and sometimes the implant of a medical device that can help the heart pump. Often, the condition resolves over time with supportive treatment, and as long as the patient rests and tries to abstain from involvement in stressful situations. Left untreated, the weakened heart muscle will eventually fail, causing death.
No clear causes for apical ballooning syndrome have been identified. The condition appears to be much more common among older women, which could provide a clue, and it is often linked with emotional stress. Inflammatory heart disease may also be involved, as might problems with the vessels which supply blood to the heart.