The little-understood condition known as ‘broken-heart syndrome’ or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, will undergo its first trials at the University of Aberdeen. The Pharma Times reports that the treatment will be a combination of psychological therapy and exercise conditioning. 

The condition got its name because it can strike healthy people at moments of severe emotional shock, such as finding out about the passing of a loved one, a betrayal, a financial loss, or break up of a relationship. Symptoms include sudden intense chest pain, and shortness of breath. Abnormal heart rhythms may also be experienced.

Women are more prone to episodes of broken heart syndrome than men, although it is not yet known why this is the case. The symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack, which is why the two conditions can sometimes become confused. In most cases, the condition is temporary, and most patients make a good recovery.

It is thought that about 5,000 people in the UK experience Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and it is relatively understudied compared to other heart conditions. Therefore, the British Heart Foundation awarded a grant of £300,000 to scientists at Aberdeen University to carry out a trial.

Dr David Gamble from the University of Aberdeen, explained: “Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, remains a comparatively poorly understood condition. It is vital that we develop a high-quality evidence base to guide clinicians in the management of this condition.

He added: “In many clinical intervention trials, we are attempting to make incremental improvements to existing treatments, but as broken heart syndrome is at such an early stage there is no established treatment to use as a base.”

90 people will be recruited to take part across Scotland, after experiencing the condition. They will then partake in either the psychological therapy or the exercise conditioning, or be part of a control group.

Professor Dana Dawson of the University of Aberdeen, said: “We already know that cardiovascular disease affects men and women in different ways, so there is no reason why a one-size-fits-all treatment should work for broken heart syndrome.

“After so long spent researching this condition, it is great to be taking this huge step towards developing a standardised treatment for it and we look forward to seeing the results in due course.”

The condition was only formally recognised in the late 1990s, and about 7% of all cases are still misdiagnosed as a heart attack. Although most people do recover from an episode, it can prove to be fatal in certain cases. 

It differs from a heart attack, which is caused by blocked arteries, a problem usually found in older or overweight patients. The stress-induced condition rapidly weakens the heart muscle, as the body produces hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline to try and alleviate the stressful event.

The sudden influx of adrenaline can overwhelm the heart muscle, which leads to a temporary decrease of blood flow to the heart. In most cases, this is reversable, but it can lead to heart failure and low blood pressure. 

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