Professor Dana Dawson is from the University of Aberdeen’s Cardiology and Cardiovascular Research Unit and a consultant cardiologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
Can you die of a broken heart? For those unfortunate enough to have experienced it, it can certainly feel like that.
I am part of a group of scientists researching a phenomenon called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy which we now know can be triggered by extreme emotional distress, leading to its nickname of broken-hearted syndrome.
It happens as a reaction to a surge of adrenaline to the heart which has been caused by upsetting events such as the death of a family member or the ending of a relationship. But understanding is growing and there is evidence that it can be caused by other factors, including physical trauma or no incident at all.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy happens when one of the heart’s chambers, the left ventricle, suddenly balloons and weakens. The heart then can’t pump blood around the body as before and the extra stress leads to heart failure. It can develop at any age, and typically affects more women than men.
Symptoms can appear like a heart attack including a shortness of breath and chest pain.
But Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a different condition entirely and unlike a heart attack, patients don’t suffer from a blockage of the arteries that supply the heart with blood.
My research focuses on understanding the condition and how it impacts people, which will inform how patients are treated including identifying potential therapeutic treatments that could be tested in future trials.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is the strongest interaction known in medicine where mental and emotional state impacts on physical health. Current research is looking at whether individuals are predisposed to the condition. The condition has only been recognised in recent years and so our knowledge remains limited. As such, it is vital that we learn more about this area of cardiology and its longer-term impact on patients.
Previous research from the University of Aberdeen has shown that although a large amount of the heart function appears to recover in the aftermath of the acute presentation, it can continue to cause symptoms in a significant number of people. Initial evidence suggests that overall, the longer-term outcome can be as significant as someone who has suffered a heart attack. The team has also demonstrated that there is increased inflammation both in the heart and whole body in patients who suffer an episode of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy and this remains present for some months.
You can read more about Takotsubo cardiomyopathy including where to go if you have concerns on the British Heart Foundation’s web pages here.