A Heart-Stopping Risk of Extreme Happiness
Turns out, being happy can cause "broken heart syndrome" too
You’ve heard of broken heart syndrome — sudden, intense chest pain caused extreme sadness, brought on by an event such as the death of a loved one. It’s treatable, but it can lead to severe, short-term heart muscle failure.
Now it turns out being extremely happy can also make the heart seize.
A group of international researchers identified 20 cases of so-called happy heart syndrome, triggered by occasions such as getting married or a favorite sports team's win.
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Both broken heart syndrome and happy heart syndrome are forms of takotsubo cardiomyopathy, so named because they cause the heart's left ventricle to resemble a takotsubo, a pot-shaped Japanese octopus trap. Part of the heart muscle freezes up and blood flows irregularly.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), most patients go to the emergency department because they think they may be having a heart attack. But eventually the heart starts working properly again, and most people make a full recovery within weeks, according to AHA.
According to the Mayo Clinic, patients in the hospital may be given medications help reduce the workload on the heart while they recover.
In the study, takotsubo cardiomyopathy was caused by sadness far more than by happiness. (Of 485 cases, only 20 were identified as being brought on by happiness.) Happy triggers included a wedding, a good job interview, becoming a grandmother or great grandmother, winning the jackpot at a casino, celebrating a favorite rugby team’s win and celebrating an 80 th birthday.
Stress at work was the most common cause of broken heart syndrome, followed by the death of a spouse, tied with the illness of someone close. The average age of people with broken heart syndrome was 65. It was 71 for people with happy heart syndrome.
None of the happy heart patients died, but five broken heart patients did.
According to the study authors, takotsubo cardiomyopathy predominantly affects postmenopausal women. No one is exactly sure of the mechanism behind it, though a surge of “stress” hormones may play a role.
“Perhaps, both happy and sad life events, while inherently distinct in nature, share a final common pathway in the central nervous system processing and output,” the authors note.
Related: Quiz: Are You Heart Smart?
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