‘Broken heart syndrome’: High stress, emotional situations can kill you

Credit: Brianna Gilmartin/Verywell Health
Credit: Brianna Gilmartin/Verywell Health

[Takotsubo syndrome, or TTS,] is characterised by a sudden temporary weakening of the heart muscles that causes the left ventricle of the heart to balloon out at the bottom while the neck remains narrow, creating a shape resembling a Japanese octopus trap, from which it gets its name.

Since this relatively rare condition was first described in 1990, evidence has suggested that it is typically triggered by episodes of severe emotional distress, such as grief, anger or fear, or reactions to happy or joyful events. 

Patients develop chest pains and breathlessness, and it can lead to heart attacks and death. 

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However, as the authors [of a new study] pointed out… functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have demonstrated altered neural connectivity in several stress-associated regions of the brain, including the amygdala, among individuals with prior TTS. 

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“We show that TTS happens not only because one encounters a rare, dreadfully disturbing event—such as the death of a spouse or child, as the classical examples have it. Rather, individuals with high stress-related brain activity appear to be primed to develop TTS—and can develop the syndrome upon exposure to more common stressors, even a routine colonoscopy or a bone fracture,” [says author Ahmed Tawakol.]

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