Happiness can break your heart too, says a new study published in the European Heart Journal. This happens when happy events cause a heart condition called takotsubo syndrome, (TTS) more commonly known as “broken-heart syndrome”.
The broken-heart syndrome, also called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, is characterised by heart muscles being weakened suddenly and for a short period of time, resulting in the left ventricle of the heart taking the shape of a Japanese octopus trap, from which it earned its name “tako-tsubo” which means “fishing pot for trapping octopus” in Japanese. In some situations, it can lead to heart attacks, and can also be fatal. It is called “broken-heart syndrome” because it is normally associated with emotional distress that can, for instance, result from the death of a loved one.
This rare condition has only been linked with emotional stress like grief, anger or fear. The new study constitutes the first time that happiness or joy has been shown to trigger the effect.
When the researchers behind the recent findings examined data from patients from all over the world who were diagnosed with the condition, they found that some of these individuals only suffered from the syndrome following a happy or joyful event. They have, therefore, coined a new term: “happy heart syndrome”.
Of the 1,750 patients involved, 485 included cases of a definite emotional trigger. 4% of this group developed TTS after going through happy events like a birthday party, wedding, the birth of a grandchild; the remaining majority (96%) had experienced a sad and stressful incident like the death of a spouse, an accident, worry concerning a disease.
Interestingly, 95% of the patients were females for both the “happy hearts” and “broken hearts” groups. Furthermore, the mean age was 71 among the former, and 65 for the latter. This finding confirms that TTS cases concern mostly post-menopausal women.
One of the authors, Dr Jelena Ghadri, explains that their study shows how TTS is not restricted to sad events. Therefore, physicians should take this into consideration when dealing with patients showing signs of heart attacks following an event marked by happiness and joy.
Dr Ghadri also adds that the findings suggest that the pathways in the central nervous system for happy and sad incidents might be similar.