Researchers in Scotland are to carry out the first ever national study into a potentially fatal heart condition which affects thousands of people in the UK.
Clinical scientists at the University of Aberdeen have been given a grant of £215,000 from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to conduct a comprehensive epidemiology study into Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, described by researchers as a “neglected area of cardiology”.
The exact cause of the condition is not clearly understood but an acute episode can be triggered by severe emotional distress, such as the death of a loved one. As a result, when it was first discovered, it was also referred to as “broken heart syndrome”. However, researchers now believe it can be caused by a number of different factors, including intense physical trauma, but also lesser physical or emotional upsets or no incident at all.
Acute symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain and as such it is often mistaken for a heart attack. It affects women and men of all ages and although a great deal of recovery occurs, there can be long-lasting damage to the heart muscle.
Professor Dana Dawson, from the University’s Cardiology and Cardiovascular Research Unit and a Consultant Cardiologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, is leading the study and explains: “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a sudden and potentially catastrophic heart problem sometimes caused by stress. But 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 neglected area of cardiology and its longer-term impact on patients.”
The study intends wants to shed new light on what actually happens to people who have suffered Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Previous research from Aberdeen has shown that although a large amount of the heart function appears to recover quickly, it can continue to cause symptoms in some people. Initial evidence suggests that overall the longer-term outcome can be as significant as someone who has suffered a heart attack.
Professor Dawson’s study will examine data from all recorded cases of the condition in Scotland since 2010 and once complete, it’s hoped the findings will help inform future research trials and clinical practice.
The BHF is the largest independent funder of research into heart and circulatory diseases in the UK. February marks National Heart Month and this project is one of thousands funded by the BHF to help save and improve lives. This week, Professor Dawson will also take part in the BHF’s “Live and Ticking” event – a free online broadcast, which will focus on research into the condition and hear from those affected.
James Jopling, Head of BHF Scotland, said:“This is an exciting project which we hope will provide vital insight into a condition we want to understand more about. This study will help inform how we treat patients, identify those at particular risk and allow us to gain valuable information on potential therapeutic treatments that could be tested in future trials. Ultimately we hope it will bring us closer to understanding and rectifying this devastating and potentially fatal condition.”
64-year-old Jacqui Newton from Perth suffered an acute episode caused by Takotsubo cardiomyopathy in June 2019, while attending a conference in London. Jacqui has an underlying health condition - sarcoidosis, a rare disease which is caused by an over-activity of the immune system. She had been taking part in a conference to share her experience with other medical professionals and patients.
It was during her presentation that she suddenly began to feel unwell.
Jacqui explains: “As I delivered my talk, I felt a heavy weight high in my chest. I took deep breaths and carried on. I sat down as another talk began and it was then that the pain and more severe pressure began high up in my chest and back. It was quite concerning.”
That night, when the pain didn’t ease, she called 999 and was taken by ambulance into hospital where tests later confirmed Takotsubo syndrome.
Jacqui continues: “I had heard of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy but I was really surprised that this had happened to me. I now think it might have been more stressful than I'd appreciated sharing my own traumatic experiences in public and that’s what has triggered it.
Jacqui has recovered well with treatment but admits it took time.
“I followed all the advice and although I felt ok, I was very tired,” she says. “I didn’t exercise for three months because of what happened.
“When I was in hospital, I read some of Professor Dawson’s work on the condition and I have to say research into Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is really important to me, as is educating doctors. The more we can learn about it to help understand this condition the better.”
For more information and details of the BHF’s free Live and Ticking event on Takotsubo cardiomyopathy on Wednesday 24th February with Professor Dawson visit https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/in-your-area/public-engagement-events