Happy events can also lead to ‘broken hearts’, study finds

While heart disease is no laughing matter, it seems heart attacks can be triggered by happy events
While heart disease is no laughing matter, it seems heart attacks can be triggered by happy events
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Hearts can be broken by happy events as well as grief and sadness, a study has found.

Since 1990, doctors have recognised a rare condition associated with extreme distress that can trigger a potentially fatal weakening of the heart.

Known as Takotsubo syndrome, or TTS, it typically occurs after upsetting episodes such as the death of a spouse or parent, relationship breakdown, or being diagnosed with terminal illness.

Now research has shown the same outcome can follow happy or joyful events. Scientists have named the new condition “happy heart syndrome”.

The discovery came after researchers analysed data from 1,750 patients diagnosed with TTS in nine countries.

Of 485 patients for whom a definite emotional trigger could be identified, 96 per cent had suffered sad and stressful events such as the loss of a loved one, attending a funeral, being hurt in an accident, illness or relationship problems. One obese patient was affected after being stuck in the bath.

But in the case of the remaining 20, heart damage appeared to have been triggered by happy occasions including a birthday party, wedding, surprise party, the birth of a grandchild or a favourite team winning.

Dr Jelena Ghadri, from University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland – where the world’s first TTS registry is based, said: “The triggers for TTS can be more varied than previously thought. A TTS patient is no longer the classic ‘broken-hearted’ patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too.

“Clinicians should be aware of this and also consider that patients who arrive in the emergency department with signs of heart attacks, such as chest pain and breathlessness, but after a happy event or emotion, could be suffering from TTS just as much as a similar patient presenting after a negative emotional event.”

The condition, which occurs suddenly, causes the heart chamber to balloon out at the bottom while the top remains narrow. Patients with the abnormality are prone to chest pains and breathlessness, and at risk of a potentially fatal heart attack.

Scientists are still trying to understand the mechanism behind TTS, which seems to involve links between psychological stimuli, the brain, and the cardiovascular system.

In the study, published in the European Heart Journal, 95 per cent of both “broken heart” and “happy heart” patients were women. The average age of the “broken” group was 65 and of the “happy” group 71.