Broken heart syndrome: Can a broken heart cause as much damage as a heart attack?

We all know how much a broken heart can hurt, but can it really, physically damage your cardiovascular system?

Most of us will suffer heartbreak at least once in our lives – and will be familiar with how dreadful it can feel, physically as well as emotionally.

But while for the majority of people, the term ‘heartbroken’ is purely metaphorical, for some, it can mean a medical condition with symptoms akin to an actual heart attack.

[Read more: What steps should you take if you ever suffer a heart attack?]

What’s more, researchers from the University of Aberdeen are now warning that this type of heartbreak can also cause lasting damage.

What is broken heart syndrome?

Sometimes known as ‘broken heart syndrome’, what’s actually going on is a condition called ‘takotsubo’, believed to affect around 3,000 people in the UK each year.

Heartbreak related to the loss of a relationship isn’t the only cause, though this has been known to trigger the condition in some cases.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, explains: “Takotsubo is an acute heart problem which is most common in women, brought on by heavy physical activity or heavy mental stress. For patients, this feels a bit like having a heart attack and if you’re ill at the time, this may lead to treatment in hospital.

“Overall, although the acute effects of takotsubo may feel similar to a heart attack, the underlying process with the heart is quite different”.

Lasting damage

Heart attacks – where the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, often due to a blood clot - are a medical emergency as without urgent treatment, they can result in significant long-term damage or fatal complications.

With Takotsubo, the heart muscle becomes stunned and weakened. It’s often assumed that the condition gets better “two to three weeks after the trigger” but, Pearson adds, “this current study has shown that, surprisingly, this isn’t true, and the heart’s function deteriorates as a consequence of takotsubo.”

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen followed 37 takotsubo patients for an average of two years – the longest study of its kind. Regular tests showed that their hearts were still affected long after the ‘heartbreak’ was triggered.

Lead researcher Dr Dana Dawson said: "Our research shows that takotsubo needs to be treated with the same urgency as any other heart problem and that patients may need on-going treatment for these long-term effects.”

[Read more: Heart failure: what is it and how does it differ from a heart attack?]

7 tips for dealing with a broken heart

Unfortunately we can’t tell you how to totally avoid takotsubo, but every little helps when it comes to coping with a broken heart in the traditional sense...

1. Laugh - a lot

They say laughter is the best medicine. Well, some studies have shown that laughing for at least 15 minutes can actually make you physically healthier and possibly even extend your life – so surround yourself with funny people, or at least some funny box-sets.

2. Exercise

Exercising can not only be a great way to keep fit and physically well, but it can be the best way to boost your mental wellbeing and mood.

3. Don’t forget to eat

Often when your heart has been broken, it’s common go feel sick and lose your appetite. But the worst thing to do is to let yourself go hungry. Grab some of your favourite foods and stick a film on and you’re bound to feel better.

4. Get outdoors

Fresh air can do you the world of good. Go for a walk outdoors which will help you to clear your mind and get your blood pumping.

5. Change your look

The best way to feel good about yourself is to have a makeover, isn’t it? Change up your look for a new you.

6. Spend time with loved ones

There’s nothing better than being surrounded by your family in times of stress and sadness to help you feel loved. Schedule in some quality time.

7. Remember you will love again

It’s hard to forgive, but you should try to forget, eventually. Give yourself time to heal and process, but try not to lose all hope in love. The quicker you put the past behind you, move on and open your heart again, the sooner you can find a new love.

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