Your heart can be damaged after a sad event and it may be your brain’s doing, experts believe.
Swiss researchers have been studying people with a rare and unusual condition called broken heart syndrome.
This weakening and failing of the heart happens suddenly, often after a stressful or emotional event such as bereavement.
It is little understood but the work in the European Heart Journal suggests the mind’s response to stress plays a part.
Breathlessness and pain
Also known as takotsubo syndrome – referring to the shape of the heart in people with this condition, which resembles a Japanese pot with the same name – broken heart syndrome can be brought on by shock.
It’s different to a heart attack caused by blocked blood vessels, but has similar symptoms, including breathlessness and chest pain.
Often, an unhappy event is the trigger, but exciting big events, such as a wedding or new job, have been linked with it too.
Some people won’t have, or be able to identify, a specific event that caused the condition.
Dr Jelena Ghadri and colleagues at University Hospital Zurich looked at what was happening in the brains of 15 patients with broken heart syndrome.
Brain scans showed up noticeable differences compared with scans from 39 healthy, control patients.
These brain areas are the ones that are thought to control our response to stress.
Dr Ghadri said: “Emotions are processed in the brain so it is conceivable that the disease originates in the brain with top-down influences on the heart.”
Joel Rose, chief executive of Cardiomyopathy UK, said: “This is an important piece of research that will help to shape our understanding of a form of cardiomyopathy that is often overlooked and remains something of an enigma.
British Heart Foundation-funded researcher Prof Dana Dawson, from the University of Aberdeen, said: “These findings support something we have long suspected – that there is a brain-heart interaction in takotsubo.”