In 1990, researchers in Japan determined that it really is possible to die from a broken heart. The odd thing is that it is also apparently equally possible to die from a heart full of joy; a heart so full of joy, in fact, that it triggers the very same stressful condition on the muscle as a broken heart does.
According to new research published this week in the European Health Journal, extreme happiness can put as much strain on the cardiac muscle as extreme grief or distress. This leads to a condition called takotsubo syndrome (TTS), also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
This is not a gradual condition (like Alzheimer’s, for example). The condition occurs suddenly during moments of very intense emotion. The heart muscle weakens and causes the left ventricle to expand at the bottom while the top remains typically narrow. This results in the ventricle taking on a shape which somewhat resembles an octopus (hence the name “tako,” which is Japanese for octopus). Symptoms of the condition include chest pains, of course, as well as shortness of breath similar to that of a heart attack. TTS, however, can also cause fatal arrhythmia, stroke, and even heart failure.
While it would be easy to attribute the condition to various other health concerns, the most recent research indicates that moments of exuberant joy might also trigger the condition. Study researcher Dr Jelena Ghadri, comments: “We have shown that the triggers for takotsubo syndrome can be more varied than previously thought.
She goes on to say, “A takotsubo syndrome patient is no longer the classic ‘broken-hearted’ patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too.
Furthermore, Dr. Ghadri adds, “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 from takotsubo syndrome just as much as a similar patient presenting after a negative emotional event.”
She adds that this discovery intimates it is quite likely that both happy and sad events share a common “emotional pathway” that can lead to this condition. Obviously, more research is needed.