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‘Broken heart syndrome’ can be triggered by high emotional stress

It is widely believed that time is the best healer but it might not be the case for those who suffer physically from a broken heart, researchers claim.

Stress-induced cardiomyopathy, or “broken heart syndrome” - which has symptoms similar to that of a heart attack but without artery blockage - can be caused by times of acute emotional stress such as the death of a loved one, a divorce or gut-wrenching break-up.

Sufferers were reported to recover completely “within days or weeks,” however researchers at University of Aberdeen found that it can take longer than four months and with lasting effects.

Dr Dana Dawson, a senior lecturer at the university and consultant cardiologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, said: “The general belief was this condition was recovering itself very rapidly, but this was obviously not the case when we investigated in greater detail.”

 

Researchers found that patients are not able to take part in strenuous activity and unable to return to work due to swelling and instability of the heart, which causes difficulties in breathing and pumping blood.

“Our findings go some way to providing an explanation as to why patients continue to complain about not feeling right months later despite no apparent problems with their heart,” Dr Dawson added.

The university plans to follow up on the subjects to see if any of them make a full recovery, in what timeframe and if an underlying health issue could have contributed to the onset.

Michael Strachan from Banchory, Aberdeenshire, was diagnosed with the condition in August after having to care for his wife – who suffered a stroke – while working full-time.

He said: “I am now feeling a lot better and have recently returned to work building up my hours slowly but it has taken time for me to recover.

“It would be nice to know more about why this happened to me and hopefully being part of this research might help other people who find themselves in my position in the future.

“My wife is also now improving so the stress levels at home are much reduced.”

The syndrome, also called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, mainly affects women and was first diagnosed in Japan in 1990.

The overwhelming grief from the death of a loved one can also double the risk of actual heart attacks. Scientists at St George's, University of London, found that 16 per 10,000 patients over 60 suffered a heart attack or stroke within 30 days of a partner's death.

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