We call it a broken heart, but can an emotionally stressful event like the passing of a loved one or a traumatic breakup literally hurt your heart? Science says it can.
A new study from the British Heart Foundation and the University of Aberdeen suggests that physical damage incurred by “broken heart syndrome”(officially known as Takotsubo syndrome) can last a long time and in some cases be irreversible. Using ultrasound and MRI scans of 52 sufferers, researchers observed the physical implications of a broken heart: The heart muscle strains and then can’t contract properly, which restricts its ability to pump blood around the body.
Researchers also observed that individuals’ heartbeats did indeed slow down and their muscle contractions decreased after suffering their respective traumatic events — but that they remained abnormal for several months. And get this: Some sufferers were left with actual scars on the damaged heart muscles, which suggests permanent heart damage.
“This study has shown that in some patients who develop Takotsubo syndrome various aspects of heart function remain abnormal for up to four months afterwards,” explains Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation. “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.”
In other words, your heartache is an actual physical thing, not just a mental and emotional reaction. According to the data, each year 3,000 Brits suffer from the syndrome. Nearly all of them (90 percent) are women between the ages of 58 and 75.
Avkiran hopes these findings will encourage further research into new treatments for Takotsubo syndrome, as some statistics maintain that between 3 and 17 percent of patients die from the condition within five years of diagnosis (however, this number may have more to do with the average age of sufferers than the condition itself).
Though it’s unlikely the stress of your recent life event could be diagnosed as Takotsubo syndrome, you may still be feeling the symptoms of a broken heart. Here is a list of the signs of a broken heart and suggestions on how to address them.
What Do YOU Think?
Did you know that broken heart syndrome was an actual thing? Have you ever suffered a broken heart? How long did it last, and how did you treat it?