Happiness can break your heart, doctors warn
The lethal condition 'happy heart syndrome' can occur after a joyful event such as a surprise birthday party or the birth of a child
Published 03/03/2016 | 10:43
Celebrating a birthday may not seem like a dangerous pastime but too much happiness can be heartbreaking, according to doctors.
Health experts have known for some time that sad events, such as the loss of a spouse, can trigger a condition known as ‘broken heart syndrome’ which feels like a heart attack and can be fatal if not treated quickly.
Now for the first time doctors have shown that over-excitement from happy events can also spark the condition, which they have named ‘happy heart syndrome.’ In short, happiness can be lethal.
Since ‘broken heart syndrome’ was first identified in 1990, doctors at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland have been compiling a database of worldwide attacks which currently holds 1750 patients.
Most attacks were triggered by episodes of severe emotional distress, such as grief, fear and anger. Attending funerals was a common factor and one incident occurred after an obese patient got stuck in the bath.
But for 20 people the condition was precipitated by happy and joyful events, such as a birthday party, wedding, surprise farewell celebration, a favourite rugby team winning a game, or the birth of a grandchild.
Study author Dr Jelena Ghadri, resident cardiologist from University Hospital Zurich said doctors should enquire about happy events as well as sad, when diagnosing heart problems.
“We have shown that the triggers for ‘broken heart sydrome’ can be more varied than previously thought,” she said.
“A patient is no longer the classic “broken hearted” patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too.
“Clinicians should be aware of this and also consider that patients who arrive in the emergency department with signs of heart attacks, such as chest pain and breathlessness, but after a happy event or emotion, could be suffering just as much as a similar patient presenting after a negative emotional event.
“Our findings suggest that happy and sad life events may share similar emotional pathways.”
The condition is characterised by a sudden temporary weakening of the heart muscles which causes the left chamber of the heart to blow up like a balloon. It creates the shape of a Japanese octopus trap, which is why it’s clinical name is takotsubo syndrome.
The problem mostly affects women. 95 per cent of all patients in the database are female with an average age of 65.
Dr Christian Templin, principle investigator from University Hospital Zurich, said further research was needed to understand the exact mechanisms underlying both the “broken” and “happy” heart variants.
“We believe that broken heart syndrome is a classic example of an intertwined feedback mechanism, involving the psychological and, or physical stimuli, the brain and the cardiovascular system.
“Perhaps both happy and sad life events, while inherently distinct, share final common pathways in the central nervous system output, which ultimately lead to broken heart syndrome.”
The new findings were published in the European Heart Journal.