Heartbreak hurts. Anyone who grew up listening to popular music and watching Hollywood blockbuster films could tell you a broken heart can kill.
Now, science has corroborated our anecdotal evidence, compiled over tears and drunk texts throughout our formative years.
British researchers have found severe emotional stress can cause as much damage to the heart as a heart attack, finally answering Jimmy Ruffin and his heart-wrenching 1983 ballad, What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?, after all these years.
And the prognosis isn’t good at all.
‘Broken heart syndrome’ – or takotsubo – is suffered by an estimated 3,000 Brits every single year, most commonly triggered by a bereavement.
The stress of the event triggers the syndrome, which causes the heart muscle to become stunned and weakened, and while doctors thought time could heal, new research suggests the pain is permanent.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen have discovered that the condition permanently weakens the heart, similar to a heart attack.
The study, the longest-running of its kind, found the bereaved were quick to tire and unable to excersise years after the event triggered takotsubo.
These ill-effects occurred despite widely held medical assumption stating the patients would recover and the consequences of broken heart syndrome would fade over time.
Dr Dana Dawson, lead researcher from the University of Aberdeen, said:
It is becoming increasingly recognised that takotsubo is more common than we originally thought.
This is the longest follow up study looking at the long term effects of takotsubo, and it clearly shows permanent ill-effects on the hearts of those who suffer from it.
These patients are unable to perform physical exercise as well and fatigue more easily.
The study’s findings were presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, California, which took place this past weekend.
Funded by and published through The British Heart Foundation, she continued:
Our research shows that takotsubo needs to be treated with same urgency as any other heart problem, and that patients may need ongoing treatment for these long term effects.
The team followed 37 patients with takotsubo for an average of two years and carried out regular ultrasound and MRI scans of their heart and found the damage was present long after the event which first triggered the condition.
Women are more commonly affected by the condition than men and there are likely to be many more cases than the figures suggest.
It was first identified in Japan the 1990s, and is dubbed takotsubo to mean octopus pot, which describes the deformed shape of the heart.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, added:
Takotsubo is a devastating disease that can suddenly strike down otherwise healthy people. We once thought the effects of this life-threatening disease were temporary, but now we can see they can continue to affect people for the rest of their lives.
There is no long-term treatment for people with takotsubo because we mistakenly thought patients would make a full recovery. This new research shows there are long-term effects on heart health, and suggests we should be treating patients in a similar way to those who are at risk of heart failure.
If you are struggling with bereavement, please don’t suffer in silence. Call Samaritans on their freephone 24-hour phoneline on: 116 132.