A study funded by the British Heart Foundation has found that “broken heart syndrome” may cause lasting damage to your body.
More technically known as Takotsubo syndrome, it refers to how a stressful event like the death of a loved one can cause your heart to perform less effectively and distort in shape. Takotsubo in Japanese means “octopus pot”, with the syndrome first noted in Japan in 1990. It might sound odd, but the condition is very much real.
In this admittedly small study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiograph, researchers at Aberdeen University examined 52 patients aged between 28 and 87 suffering from the syndrome. Using ultrasound and cardiac MRI scans, they found that it permanently affected how the heart pumps. It can delay the twisting motion of the muscle during a heartbeat and can also reduce the heart’s squeezing motion.
“We used to think that people who suffered from takotsubo cardiomyopathy would fully recover, without medical intervention,” Dr Dana Dawson from the University of Aberdeen, lead author on the study, said in a statement. “Here we’ve shown that this disease has much longer lasting damaging effects on the hearts of those who suffer from it.
"Recent studies have shown that this disease is not as rare as we thought, so finding out the effect that it has on sufferers’ hearts is increasingly important.”
Parts of the heart’s muscles were also found to be replaced by fine scars. These reduce the elasticity of the heart and prevent it from contracting properly. The results could explain why people who suffer from this syndrome have similar long-term survival rates to people who suffer from a heart attack.
According to BBC News, between 3 and 17 percent of people die within five years of a diagnosis of Takotsubo syndrome. About 3,000 people per year in the UK have the condition, 90 percent of which are female.
“This study has shown that in some patients who develop Takotsubo syndrome various aspects of heart function remain abnormal for up to 4 months afterwards,” said Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation. “Worryingly, these patients’ hearts appear to show a form of scarring, indicating that full recovery may take much longer, or indeed may not occur, with current care.
"This highlights the need to urgently find new and more effective treatments for this devastating condition.”
The research therefore suggests that a particularly stressful moment can cause lasting damage to your health. Time may not necessarily mend a broken heart.