Research shows broken heart syndrome causes long lasting heart damage

16 June 2017        

Category: Research

anatomical scan of a heart

A condition once thought to temporarily cause heart failure in people who experience severe stress might actually cause longer-lasting damage to the heart muscle, according to new research that we've funded.

Broken heart syndrome

Takotsubo syndrome, also called “broken heart syndrome” - because it can be triggered when a person suffers severe emotional stress, such as after bereavement - affects around 3,000 people in the UK each year. Takotsubo syndrome is a sudden and acute form of heart failure and symptoms can be similar to a heart attack.

In the study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography, researchers from the University of Aberdeen followed 52 takotsubo patients over the course of four months. 

Fine scarring

Using ultrasound and cardiac MRI scans to look at how the patients' hearts were functioning in minute detail, the researchers found that the disease had permanently affected the heart's pumping motion. The twisting or ‘wringing’ motion made by the heart during the heartbeat was delayed and the heart’s squeezing movement was reduced.

The researchers also found that parts of the heart’s muscle are replaced by fine scars, which reduce the elasticity of the heart and prevent it from contracting properly. 

These findings may help to explain why takotsubo sufferers have similar long-term survival rates to people who’ve had a heart attack.

Urgent need for treatments

Professor Metin Avkiran, our Medical Director, said:

“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.” 

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