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Time doesn’t heal all wounds, research finds

 
 
 
 
 
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A disturbing condition, known as the ‘broken heart syndrome,’ doesn’t necessarily heal with time, researchers at the University of Aberdeen have found. There is no treatment for the disorder, which was previously thought to recover in due course.

A team of researchers at Scotland’s Aberdeen University has spent four years studying the syndrome, commonly referred to as a “broken heart,” and medically known as Takotsubo stress cardiomyopathy (TSM). The result of their work turned out to be heartbreaking indeed: “There is no known treatment for the condition.”

The syndrome, which was first described in Japan in 1990, is usually sparked by stress, following life events such as losses of family members or friends, involvement in an accident or rueful feelings caused by relationship break-ups – mostly affecting women.

Patients suffering from TSM might experience severe chest pains associated with a heart attack, medics say, but when their coronary arteries are checked, no blockage is found. But “patients can go downhill very quickly,” scientists warn, as their heart muscle functions poorly.

“The usual test for heart function is an echocardiogram (Echo) test and when we conduct this it shows that the heart is back to normal… However, when talking to the patients they report that they are still not feeling themselves, cannot take part in strenuous activity and many have been unable to return to work,” said Dana Dawson, who led the Aberdeen research team.

Having studied brokenhearted patients as a group rather than individual cases, and using more sophisticated diagnostic tools, including Cardiac Magnetic Resonance and Spectroscopy, scientists found continued abnormalities in the hearts of suffering people.

“We also observed that the ability of the heart to generate the energy it needs to produce a pumping action was very much reduced,” Dawson said.

“Everyone knows someone who has had a heart attack, but I’ve never met anyone else who has been through this so it is nice to contribute to a study,” said Michael Strachan, who was diagnosed with TSM. He expressed the hope that his participation might help scientists arrive at a better understanding of the condition in the future.

Researchers say they need to get a better understanding of the complaint’s exact causes first, before further studies can be carried out into possible treatments.

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