By: Vaimoana Tapaleao
Suffering from a broken heart is very much an age-old problem.
But a medical condition known as the broken heart syndrome is very real and more likely to strike stressed women during the summer season, a study has found.
The report, published in The New Zealand Medical Journal today, highlights the condition known as takotsubo, or broken heart syndrome.
Takotsubo was first discovered in 1990, in Japan, after a number of significant earthquakes the decade before resulted in people being hospitalised with what was initially believed to be heart attacks.
Scans would later identify that those patients’ hearts were in fact normal, save for the fact that they had formed the shape of a takotsubo – a ceramic pot used to catch octopus.
In the New Zealand study, which took place between March 2004 and December 2016, 260 people were looked at from three coronary care units in public hospitals in Auckland – Middlemore, Auckland City and North Shore Hospital.
Results found a peak in Takotsubo, or TS, during the warmer months – in December, January, February and March – while there were less cases reported during the colder months, when actual heart attacks were more prevalent.
“Various stressors in summer have been evoked,” the study reads.
“Several studies have reported a summer peak for norepinephrine and epinephrine excretion.”
Principal investigator Dr Jen-Li Looi, a cardiologist at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital, said the reasons underlying why more cases were seen, particularly among post-menopausal women, during summer were unclear.
But a lot of people presenting with the condition had suffered from some kind of stress – emotional and physical.
“[Doctors] found that it’s not a muscle problem, it’s not an arteries problem or an infection. But they don’t know why.
“They think that most of the time, this group of patients tend to have a lot of stress. Just like what we had in Christchurch in 2011 after the major earthquake – there were a lot of cases in Christchurch [then].”
Dr Looi, whose co-investigator was fellow cardiologist Dr Andrew Kerr, said the condition was rare among men in New Zealand – with just over 10 identified in this particular study.
The majority of patients were women (95 per cent) and the median age was 66. Most of those women were of European descent.
“The reason why it’s called a broken heart syndrome is that a lot of women who come into the hospital – they’ve either had a big argument or sometimes they’ve found their husband or partner has died.
“At the moment, we are not sure about what is the cause. Nobody knows what is the reason women get this condition. We do have some men, but it’s not very common.
“People who have this condition tend to have more underlying anxiety and depression. They are more anxious and more likely to be depressed compared to the general population, so they are at a higher risk.”
Dr Looi said takotsubo was still somewhat under-recognised in New Zealand and, a lot of the time, those with the condition were diagnosed as having a minor heart attack, she said.
The study’s conclusion highlighted a need for further studies to be done in the area to investigate a potential link between seasonal variation and the onset of takotsubo and its underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms.
Source: NZ Herald