Takotsubo syndrome, also known as broken heart syndrome, is a rare, reversible condition with symptoms mimicking a mild heart attack. A disease that disproportionately affects women, TTS is triggered by stressful events such as bankruptcy, the death of a loved one, or divorce, and results in a weakening of the heart’s left ventricle such that it becomes temporarily misshapen.
Previous work has shown that TTS patients have elevated activity in their amygdala, a brain region involved in stress response. What has never been clear, however, is whether “this activity in the brain happens as a result of the syndrome or whether it began many years before,” says Shady Abohashem, a nuclear cardiologist at Harvard Medical School.
Higher amygdala activity [a region of the brain involved in stress] was associated with an increased risk for TTS, and among those with the condition, patients with higher ratios had developed TTS roughly two years earlier following the imaging than those with lower ratios.
“We can now show that this syndrome happens as a result of chronic stress over years that makes you vulnerable to developing the syndrome more easily and sooner than [less stressed] people,” Abohashem says.