Broken heart syndrome leaves long-term damage 

Broken Heart

‘Broken heart syndrome’, which causes temporary heart failure, could lead to long-term damage, according to new research.

Previously it was thought that the heart fully recovered after developing takotsubo syndrome (known as 'broken heart syndrome'), but research into the condition from the University of Aberdeen has found evidence of long-term impact on the heart’s pumping motion.

Emotional distress

Takotsubo syndrome happens when a person undergoes severe emotional or physical distress, for example following a bereavement or being involved in a natural disaster. The heart muscle is suddenly ‘stunned’ and the person has temporary heart failure. Symptoms, which include chest pain and breathlessness, are similar to a heart attack.

The term ‘takotsubo’ was coined in Japan in 1990 where there was the first reported case. The word takotsubo means ‘octopus pot’ in Japanese – as the changes to the left ventricle of the heart are similar in shape to these pots.

It was previously thought that the condition is temporary and reversible.

Heart scarring

A team from the University of Aberdeen looked at 52 patients aged between 28 and 87, who had suffered takotsubo syndrome. They analysed ultrasound and cardiac MRI scans to see how their hearts were functioning.

The results showed that in some patients who develop the condition, aspects of the heart function remain abnormal for up to four months afterwards, and the heart’s pumping motion is affected permanently. They found that parts of the heart muscle are scarred, which reduces the elasticity of the heart and prevents it from contracting properly.

Results of the research were published in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography.

Lasting damage

The research helps to explain why people who develop takotsubo syndrome have a similar survival rate to people who have a heart attack, with between 3% and 17% of people dying within five years of diagnosis.

Dr Dana Dawson, lead researcher, 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.”

The British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, has called for new and more effective treatments to be developed, and for more research into whether the condition is hereditary.

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