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Broken heart syndrome can be caused by happiness as well as grief, study finds

Also known as Takotsubo syndrome, the condition is usually linked to intense sadness

Kashmira Gander
Thursday 03 March 2016 13:58 GMT
(Steve Debenport/iStock)

A heart-weakening syndrome triggered by emotional events, like the death of a parent or spouse, can also be caused by extreme happiness, scientists believe.

A rare condition known as “broken heart” or Takotsubo syndrome (TTS) is usually set off by intense grief and causes the heart to become weaker.

Named after a Japanese octopus trap that resembles the bulbous shape of the left ventricle of a heart affected by TTS, the condition can put the patient at risk of experiencing a heart attack.

However, the TSS is generally reversible and temporary, and is unlikely to recur, according to the British Heart Foundation.

Scientists believe that TTS is caused by links between a psychologically taxing events and the cardiovascular system.

But the new study showed that joyous events can have the same affect, and have named the condition “happy heart syndrome.”

Swiss researchers used data from 1,750 patients diagnosed with TTS across nine different countries.

They found that of the 485 people whose illness was triggered by an emotional event, 96 per cent had experienced bereavement, were hurt in an accident, or dealt with relationships issues.

However, the remaining 20 people were diagnosed with the TTS after happy occasions such as a birthday party, wedding, a surprise party, the birth of a close relative, or their favourite sports team winning a game.

The average age of patients who had experienced sadness was 65, while “happy” patients were 71-years-old. Some 95 per cent of patients whose TTS was caused by sadness were women.

Dr Jelena Ghadri, from University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, where the world's first TTS registry is based, said: “A TTS patient is no longer the classic 'broken hearted' patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too.”

She said that doctors should be aware that patients in emergency departments who show signs of heart attack, such as chest pains and breathlessness, after a happy event could have TTS.

“[The findings] also suggest that happy and sad life events may share similar emotional pathways that can ultimately cause TTS.”

Dr Christian Templin from University Hospital Zurich, co-author of the study published in the 'European Heart Journal', said: “Perhaps both happy and sad life events, while inherently distinct, share final common pathways in the central nervous system output, which ultimately lead to TTS.”

The impact that sadness has can also weaken the body's defences, according to previous research.

A 2014 study which showed why elderly people become ill after their partner dies showed that bereavement can impact a person’s immune system when they are over 65.

The research at the University of Birmingham showed that a death can affect the neutrophil white blood cell, which attacks bacteria such as pneumonia.

Additional reporting by PA

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