Broken Heart Syndrome: Scientists Find Even Happiness Can Break Your Heart

It what could be termed a buzz-kill, researchers have found that even happy events can trigger the heart condition known as Takotsubo Syndrome or “broken heart syndrome.”

The Inquisitr reported on the broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, a while back, when the different type of heart attack was discovered by Japanese researchers. At the time, it was thought the syndrome occurred when people were under severe emotional stress, such as fear, anger, or grief or, for instance, undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

According to RTT News, the Takotsubo syndrome (or TTS) is characterized by a sudden, temporary weakening of the heart muscles, causing the left ventricle of the heart to balloon at the bottom, while the neck remains narrow. This creates a shape which resembles a Japanese octopus trap, from which the broken heart syndrome gets its Japanese name.

However, according to a report released in the European Heart Journal on Thursday, even happy events can trigger the same broken heart syndrome. Takotsubo syndrome is still relatively rare and was first encountered back in 1990. Patients typically develop chest pains and breathlessness, often leading to heart attacks and even death.

Since the Japanese researchers first announced their findings, researchers worldwide have been systematically analyzing data from a large group of patients diagnosed with TTS, or broken heart syndrome, and it has been found that some of these patients developed the condition following a joyful or happy event. In those cases, the condition has been dubbed “happy heart syndrome.”

Dr Christian Templin is the lead investigator and a consultant cardiologist and back in 2011, working together with Dr Jelena Ghadri, a resident cardiologist, established the first International Takotsubo Registry at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland. The study used data from the first 1,750 patients registered from 25 collaborating centers in nine different countries.

Analyzing the data, the researchers found 485 patients who were affected by a definite emotional trigger and 20 (four percent) of the patients had suffered broken heart syndrome after a happy and joyful event, such as a wedding, surprise farewell celebration, birthday party, birth of a grandchild, etc.

The other 465 patients had experienced TTS after stressful and sad events, such as the death of a spouse or family member, attending the resulting funeral, worry about relationship problems, or illness. One obese patient suffered broken heart syndrome after getting stuck in the bath.

Results showed the Takotsubo Syndrome occurred mainly in women, with 95 percent of the patients being female in both the “broken heart syndrome” and “happy heart syndrome” groups. Reportedly the average age of patients suffering from “broken heart syndrome” was 65 years or age, while the average age of those suffering from “happy heart syndrome” was 71. This reportedly confirms that most of the TTS cases occur in post-menopausal women.

Dr Ghadri said, “We have shown that the triggers for TTS can be more varied than previously thought. A TTS patient is no longer the classic “broken-hearted” patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too.”

Dr Ghadri went on to say clinicians should be aware of this and should consider patients who arrive in emergency rooms with signs of heart attacks, including chest pain and breathlessness, after a happy event could also be suffering from Takotsubo Syndrome and should take this into account.

According to the researchers, “happy heart” patients are more likely to have hearts that ballooned in the mid-ventricle than “broken heart” patients. However, they did say more research is needed to discover whether or not this sheds any light on the mechanisms involved in Takotsubo Syndrome.

Dr Templin said, “We believe that TTS is a classic example of an intertwined feedback mechanism, involving the psychological and/or physical stimuli, the brain and the cardiovascular system. Perhaps both happy and sad life events, while inherently distinct, share final common pathways in the central nervous system output, which ultimately lead to TCS.”

Researchers are now working to further understand the relationship between the brain and the heart, using functional MRI to look at the workings of the parts of the brain involved in the processing of emotions, behavior, reactions, decision-making and memory, including the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.

[Photo cropped and resized via Flickr by Romel/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]