The old adage that only time can heal a broken heart may not quite be true.
“Broken heart syndrome” is a real medical condition first identified in the ’90s, brought on by extreme emotional states such as bereavement or extreme stress levels.
Now scientists have discovered that even after the emotional scars have healed, the condition can leave permanent damage to the heart tissue in the same way as a heart attack.
“Broken heart syndrome” is known as takotsubo syndrome, and is brought on by extremely stressful emotions, such as grief. It is thought to affect around 3,000 people in the UK and 7,000 in the United States every year.
During an attack, part of the heart muscle weakens and balloons, crippling the heart’s pumping ability.
It was previously believed that the damage was only temporary, and that sufferers would all spontaneously and fully recover.
However, the new research, which monitored 37 sufferers for two years, has turned that understanding upside down.
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen presented their findings this weekend at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in California.
They said that some of the patients had ongoing symptoms of heart failure similar to patients who have suffered a heart attack.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said, “Takotsubo is a devastating disease that can suddenly strike down otherwise healthy people.”
In a statement, he explained that medical scientists had previously thought the effects were reversable.
“Now we can see they can continue to affect people for the rest of their lives,” he said. “There is no long-term treatment for people with takotsubo because we mistakenly thought patients would make a full recovery.”
Dana Dawson, lead researcher from the University of Aberdeen, who led the study, said the findings clearly show permanent ill effects on the hearts of those who suffer from it.
‘These patients are unable to perform physical exercise as well and fatigue more easily,” she told the Daily Mail.
She said that patients with a “broken heart” needed to be treated with the same level of urgency as other heart problems.
Dawson said that takotsubo also appears to be much more common than originally thought.
Takotsubo was first identified by medical researchers in the ’90s in Japan, hence it’s Japanese title. It typically affects more women than men, the vast majority between the ages of 58 and 75.
Takotsubo is not only caused by extreme negative emotions, according to medical experts. It can also be caused by an excess of “positive emotions” such as joy or excitement, echoing an adage from traditional Chinese medicine: an excess of joy is bad for the heart.
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