A Different Kind of Heart Attack

December 22, 2017

Researchers discover that severe emotional distress can damage the heart physically like a heart attack.

At least 3,000 adults in the U.K. suffer from Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, colloquially termed as the “broken heart syndrome,” each year. It is caused by bereavement and severe emotional distress, which stuns and weakens the heart. This causes the left ventricle – one of the main chambers of the heart – to change shape.

The deformed heart looks similar to an octopus pot, or “takotsubo” in Japanese, which gave the condition its name. Doctors have long presumed that the damage was temporary and would eventually heal over time. (Related: Broken hearts may actually be able to cause death.)

Interestingly, a major project by Swiss researchers last year found that the condition can also be triggered by extreme happiness as well as sorrow.

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have discovered that the condition may cause permanent damage to the heart, similar to a heart attack. Following 37 patients with Takotsubo for two years, they found that the heart damage remained long after the event that first triggered the condition. This was seen through regular ultrasound and MRI scans.

Many of the patients reported becoming tired very easily and were thus unable to do much exercise. The researchers suggest that patients should be offered the same drugs as those whose hearts have been damaged by a heart attack.

Lead researcher Dr. Dana Dawson said that Takotsubo is more common than they initially thought, and that it may actually cause permanent damage to the hearts of the patients. Moreover, the condition is affecting the patients’ everyday lives with frequent exhaustion and lack of physical activity.

“Our research shows that Takotsubo needs to be treated with same urgency as any other heart problem, and that patients may need ongoing treatment for these long-term effects,” said Dr. Dawson.

Furthermore, the study suggests that women are more prone to developing this condition than men.

According to Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, Takotsubo is a disease that can affect even healthy people. He added that there is currently no long-term treatment for the condition. This is because medical science has long presumed that patients would make a full recovery.

“We once thought the effects of this life-threatening disease were temporary, but now we can see they can continue to affect people for the rest of their lives,” said Pearson. “This new research shows there are long-term effects on heart health, and suggests we should be treating patients in a similar way to those who are at risk of heart failure.”

Scientists are still trying to understand exactly how it occurs and why it can affect some people more than others.

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