Study offers possible explanation for broken heart syndrome

Inflammation is central to the pathophysiology and natural history of broken heart syndrome.

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BHF scientists have recently made a key revelation the body’s own immune system plays a vital role in the mysterious heart condition i.e., broken heart syndrome.

Heart and circulatory disease cause more than a quarter (26 percent) of all deaths in the UK. Over half a million people in the UK are living with heart failure.

Broken heart syndrome- also known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy- is usually brought on by emotional or physical stress such as the loss of a loved one.

For the study, scientists used MRI scans to measure the levels of inflammation in the heart muscle and blood of 55 patients. The outcomes revealed that patients with takotsubo had more elevated levels of inflammation contrasted with healthy volunteers, a pattern which was as yet present no less than five months after the underlying event.

Professor Dana Dawson, Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, who led the study explains: “We hypothesized that inflammation is central to the pathophysiology and natural history of broken heart syndrome.”

“We found that broken heart syndrome triggers a storm in the immune system which results in acute inflammation in the heart muscle. The heart muscle then spills inflammatory signals that circulate throughout the body.”

“We still don’t know if this is the cause of the broken heart syndrome itself or if it is a reactive response, but it offers the first platform to plan for the future possible therapeutic interventions in this condition in which no treatment exists.”

“These findings uncover an important and previously unknown mechanism in the pathogenesis of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, furthermore, whole body, as well as myocardial inflammation, may serve as a therapeutic target for these patients in the future.”

Professor Metin Avkiran, our associate medical director, also commented on the exciting findings:

“Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a serious stress-induced condition which affects mainly women and can cause long-lasting damage and scarring to the heart muscle. Surprisingly, there are still large gaps in our knowledge of its underlying biology. The discovery that it is accompanied by inflammation within the heart and in the rest of the body is an important step forward.”

“We now need further research to understand if inflammation causes takotsubo cardiomyopathy and determine if drugs that target inflammation could be the key to fixing broken hearts.”