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Can a broken heart be a physical health risk?

Thursday 23rd November 2017
Broken heart syndrome is a real health concern and can cause as much damage as a heart attack, new research shows. Image: takasuu via iStock
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Broken heart syndrome, or takotsubo cardiomyopathy as it is scientifically known, can result in the same level of damage as a heart attack for an individual, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen monitored 37 patients who were deemed to be suffering from a broken heart due to a traumatic event in their lives, such as a bereavement, over a two-year period to assess the effect this had on their physical health.

The participants underwent regular ultrasound and cardiac MRI scans during this time, which showed doctors that their heart function was indeed affected following the traumatic event. In many cases, cardiologists noted that the takotsubo cardiomyopathy patients had similar symptoms to people who had recently suffered heart attacks.

Many years of recovery can follow a heart attack, which indicates that the effects of a broken heart can be long-lasting and potentially even irreversible. The link was so similar that the study authors estimated broken heart syndrome sufferers to have the same chance of long-term survival as heart attack patients.

The research was funded by the British Heart Foundation, with the organisation's associate medical director Professor Jeremy Pearson commenting: "There is no long-term treatment for people with takotsubo because we mistakenly thought patients would make a full recovery.

"This new research shows there are long-term effects on heart health and suggests we should be treating patients in a similar way to those who at risk of heart failure."

The symptoms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy include fine scar tissue in the heart muscle, which can adversely affect its elasticity, impacting its ability to contract properly with every heartbeat. This scarring is believed to occur when a person receives a shock or experiences a trauma of some kind, inducing the same type of physical effect that a cardiac arrest does.

Written by Mathew Horton

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