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Broken heart syndrome can be as deadly as a heart attack 

A recent study has revealed alarming findings regarding the treatment of patients with broken heart syndrome, also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy. 

This condition, which is often triggered by extreme emotional distress, has been shown to have a higher mortality rate than previously understood, with current treatments proving to be ineffective.

The study was conducted by a team of experts led by Professor Dana Dawson from the University of Aberdeen Cardiology and Cardiovascular Research Unit.

Ineffective treatment 

The findings highlight a critical gap in the medical understanding and treatment of broken heart syndrome. 

Professor Dawson said the data shows “quite starkly” that takotsubo syndrome, which is more common in women, is not being treated correctly and more research is needed.

Extreme emotional distress 

“Takotsubo cardiomyopathy can be triggered by extreme emotional distress, leading to its nickname of broken-heart syndrome,” said Professor Dawson.

“It happens as a reaction to upsetting events such as the death of a family member, the ending of a relationship, or illness, when distress signals travel from the brain to the heart. But understanding is growing and there is evidence that it can be caused by other factors, including physical trauma or no incident at all.”

Complications and symptoms

“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 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.”

Survival rate 

The researchers analyzed data from 3,720 individuals, including 620 with takotsubo syndrome, spanning from 2010 to 2017. 

The results of the study are particularly concerning as they show that patients with takotsubo have a worse survival rate than the general population and are just as vulnerable as those who have had a heart attack.

Among the participants, 153 with takotsubo died over the median follow-up of 5.5 years, a mortality rate exceeding that of the general population. 

The experts found that takotsubo patients were often prescribed the same medication as those who suffered heart attacks. However, these treatments did not improve survival rates and had uncertain benefits. This indicates an urgent need to reevaluate the treatment approaches for broken heart syndrome.

Further research is needed 

Professor Dawson said researchers were surprised that takotsubo patients were medicated in the same way as heart attack patients.

“These patients have increased mortality compared to the general population, an increased vulnerability to developing heart conditions, and as much chance of dying from this as people who have suffered heart attacks. It is vital that we identify precise ways to treat this unique group of people, and that is what we plan to do as we continue our research,” said Professor Dawson.

“This study has identified one drug as a potential breakthrough with promising therapeutic benefit, however further research is needed to establish if this is the key to treating this devastating illness.”

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and is published in JACC: Advances.

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