Suffering heartbreak can cause as much long-term damage to health as cardiac arrest, a study has found.
About 3,000 Britons a year suffer ‘broken heart syndrome’ – also known as takotsubo syndrome – which mostly affects women.
The sudden rush of hormones that is caused by emotionally stressful events such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, betrayal or romantic rejection can damage the heart muscle, according to research. In extreme cases, victims die from the condition, which can also be brought on by positive events such as a lottery win.
About 3,000 Britons a year suffer ‘broken heart syndrome’ – also known as takotsubo syndrome
Until now, it was thought that the heart could fully recover.
But research published in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography suggests the muscle actually suffers damage.
This could explain why sufferers tend to have a similar life expectancy to those who have suffered a heart attack.
The syndrome was named takotsubo, which is Japanese for ‘octopus pot’, because the left ventricle – the heart’s lower chamber – has a similar shape to a fishing pot.
A team from the Aberdeen University, funded by the British Heart Foundation, followed 52 takotsubo syndrome patients over four months.
They used ultrasound and cardiac MRI scans to look at how the patients’ hearts were functioning.
The results showed the condition permanently affected the heart’s pumping motion, delaying the twisting or ‘wringing’ motion made by the heart as it beats.
The heart’s squeezing motion was also reduced, while parts of the muscle suffered scarring that then affected the elasticity of the heart and stopped it contracting properly.
The sudden rush of hormones that is caused by emotionally stressful eventscan damage the heart muscle
Dr Dana Dawson, of Aberdeen University, who led the research, said: ‘We used to think that people who suffered from takotsubo cardiomyopathy would fully recover, without medical intervention.
‘Here we’ve shown that this disease has much longer lasting damaging effects on the hearts of those who suffer from it.’
Figures show that between 3 per cent and 17 per cent of patients die within five years of diagnosis.
Some 90 per cent of sufferers are women and a stressful trigger for the condition is identified in around 70 per cent of cases.
Professor Metin Avkiran, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This study has shown that in some patients who develop takotsubo syndrome various aspects of heart function remain abnormal for up to four months afterwards.
‘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.’
Sir James Munby, the country’s most senior family court judge has cited broken heart syndrome as a reason why it is important not to split up elderly couples in care homes. He said: ‘We do know that people die of a broken heart. How long do people last if they are uprooted? A very short time.’