Here's Why Your Brain Is To Blame For Your Broken Heart
Sometimes the emotional pain from heartbreak or grief can cut so deep it physically hurts. And that's because there is physical damage being done. But while your heart might be the thing that feels broken, new science has revealed that the damage is actually being done by your brain - and the fact that it's stopped communicating effectively with your heart.
Swiss researchers have been studying people with "broken heart syndrome".
The rare condition causes the heart to physically weaken and possibly fail as a result of a stressful or emotional event like a death or breakup.
Until now, it was a mystery as to why it happens.
But this new study suggests it could all be down to the mind's response to stress.
Otherwise known as takotsubo syndrome (TTS), broken heart syndrome affects around 2,500 people in the UK every year, and can be brought on by both positive and negative shock.
It's different from a heart attack, which is caused by blocked blood vessels, but shares similar symptoms like chest pain and breathlessness.
It's more common in women with only ten per cent of cases occurring in men.
It is possible for the damaged heart muscles to recover over a few days, weeks or months, but for some, the condition can deteriorate and become fatal.
The University Hospital Zurich looked at what happened in 15 patients' brains who were suffering from broken heart syndrome. And scans threw up significant differences compared with scans from a control group of 39 healthy people.
In those with broken heart syndrome there was less communication between brain regions responsible for controlling emotions and physical body responses - like heartbeats.
And it's these areas of the brain which are thought to control our stress response.
Professor of cardiology at the university, Christian Templin, said: "We found that TTS patients had decreased communication between brain regions associated with emotional processing and the autonomic nervous system, which controls the unconscious workings of the body, compared to the healthy people.
"For the first time, we have identified a correlation between alterations to the functional activity of specific brain regions and TTS.
"Emotional and physical stress are strongly associated with TTS, and it has been hypothesised that the overstimulation of the autonomic nervous system may lead to TTS events."
Dr Jelena Ghadri who co-authored the study said: "Emotions are processed in the brain so it is conceivable that the disease originates in the brain with top-down influences on the heart."
More research is still needed to understand the link (because scientists didn't have scans of the patients' brains from before they developed broken heart syndrome to compare and pinpoint it as the cause). But chief executive of Cardiomyopathy UK, Joel Rose, called the findings "an important piece of research".
Featured Image Credit: Unsplash