Broken heart syndrome may cause permanent damage

A condition called Takotsubo syndrome may cause longer-term damage to the heart muscle than was previously thought, according to a study funded by the British Heart Foundation.

The condition, which affects about 3,000 people in the UK every year is also known as “broken heart syndrome” because it can be caused by severe emotional stress such as the grief experienced after losing a loved one.

The symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, but until now, it had been thought that the heart eventually fully recovers. The current findings suggest that the damage is in fact longer- lasting and possibly even permanent.

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,” says lead author Dana Dawson (Aberdeen University, Scotland).

For the study, Dawson and team followed 52 individuals with the syndrome over a four-month period. They performed ultrasound and cardiac MRI scans of the participants’ hearts, which they examined in minute detail to assess heart function.

As reported in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography, Dawson and colleagues found that the condition had permanently damaged the heart’s pumping motion. The “wringing” motion that occurs during a heartbeat was delayed and the organ’s squeezing motion was reduced. Parts of the heart’s muscle were also scarred, which reduces the heart’s elasticity and ability to contract properly. This may explain why people with Takotsubo syndrome have similar long-term survival rates to people who have suffered a heart attack.

Broken heart syndrome
Adam Wasilewski / Shutterstock.com

Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, says: “This study has shown that in some patients who develop Takotsubo syndrome various aspects of heart function remain abnormal for up to 4 months afterwards. Worryingly, these patients’ hearts appear to show a form of scarring, indicating that full recovery may take much longer, or indeed may not occur, with current care.”

“This highlights the need to urgently find new and more effective treatments for this devastating condition,” he concludes.

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