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Be warned: Too much happiness too can break your heart

We knew that a sudden emotional setback can trigger a heart attack. However, a new study reveals that a joyful event too can cause heart attack. It’s called the ‘broken heart’ or Takotsubo syndrome.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 03, 2016 12:40 IST
AFP
Broken heart syndrome

Called the ‘broken heart syndrome’ or Takotsubo syndrome, the condition can lead to heart attacks and death.(Shutterstock)

Strange as it may sound, happy occasions such as the birth of your child or a big win in sports, can cause trouble for your heart, a new study has found. Called the ‘broken heart syndrome’ or Takotsubo syndrome, it reveals how a joyful event can lead to a sudden weakening of heart muscles, causing the left ventricle that pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, to blow up abnormally at the bottom.

Besides acute chest pain and shortness of breath, the condition can lead to heart attacks and death. The condition -- discovered by Japanese researchers -- gets its name from a traditional Japanese octopus trap, which is said to resemble the distended heart chamber.

It has long been known that an unexpected emotional shock -- typically something unpleasant, such as the death of a spouse, or a violent argument -- can provoke an attack.

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Excessive happiness such as birth of a grandchild could lead to a heart attack. (Shutterstock)

But statistics were lacking, and no one had ever investigated whether an intensely happy event could give the same result.

In 2011, a pair of researchers in Switzerland -- Christian Templin and Jelena Ghadri, both of University Hospital Zurich -- set up a global registry to track cases of the syndrome, which is fairly rare.

Five years later, the network of 25 hospitals spread across nine countries had collected data on statistically significant 1,750 cases of the Takotsubo syndrome (TTS).

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For the study, Templin and Ghadri, leading a team of 16 researchers, determined that emotional jolts were responsible for 485 of those cases.

And within that group, four percent -- a total of 20 individuals -- could be said to have suffered from ‘happy heart syndrome’.

Birth of a grandchild

“We have shown that the triggers for TTS can be more varied than previously thought,” said Ghadri. “The disease can be preceded by positive emotions too.”

The 20 cases set off by joyful events included a birthday party, a wedding, a surprise farewell celebration, a favourite rugby team winning a game, and the birth of a grandchild.

None of them proved fatal.

Sudden happiness as a result of a win in a game could also affect your attack. (Shutterstock)

Emergency room doctors should be aware of the fact that patients with signs of heart attack could be suffering from TTS, sparked by either positive or negative experiences.

For reasons the researchers do not understand, 95 percent of the patients in both the ‘broken heart’ and ‘happy heart’ groups were women, mostly in their mid-to-late 60s.

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The study found that most patients of ‘broken heart’ or ‘happy heart’ group happen to be women in their ’60s. (Shutterstock)

“We still do not know why women are predominately affected by the Takotsubo syndrome,” said Ghadri. “We can only speculate that the hormonal state -- namely, oestrogen -- might play a role in the disease mechanism.” Women have much higher levels of oestrogen than men, in whom testosterone is the dominant hormone.

The skew towards women is even more perplexing, she said, because heart attacks are more common among men. Further studies are also needed to figure out if both happy and sad life events, while obviously different, ultimately share the same pathway in the central nervous system for triggering the syndrome.