Moments of joy ‘can trigger heart condition’ (but only if you’re really unlucky)

Research published in the European Heart Journal suggests that happy events can trigger a heart condition known as takotsubo syndrome, a rare (but potentially fatal) condition which changes the shape of the heart’s left ventricle.

The condition, which is usually temporary, causes breathlessness and chest pains. A study of 1,750 patients found that heart problems could be caused by anything from attending a son’s wedding to — remarkably — winning a casino jackpot, or discovering that you have been cured of another illness.

Researchers from University Hospital in Zurich analysed data from 1,750 takotsubo patients, and found that in 485 cases there was a ‘definite emotional trigger’. Of these, four per cent reported falling ill after pleasant experiences, with examples including a wedding and the birth of a grandchild. One episode occurred after an obese patient got stuck in the bath. Three quarters of the cases with an emotional trigger were caused by stress.

Dr Jelena Ghadri, a cardiologist and the study’s co-author, says that her findings should lead to changes in clinical practice. ‘We have shown that the triggers for TTS can be more varied than previously thought. A TTS patient is no longer the classic “broken-hearted” patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too,’ she says.

‘Clinicians should be aware of this and also consider that patients who arrive in the emergency department with signs of heart attacks, such as chest pain and breathlessness, but after a happy event or emotion, could be suffering from TTS just as much as a similar patient presenting after a negative emotional event.’

The phenomenon, which they are calling ‘happy heart syndrome’, affects a very small number of patients.

Instant analysis
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a rare condition to begin with, so some headlines have been misleading. Looking at the numbers, there were 1,750 patients with the condition in the study, 485 of these had an emotional trigger, and 20 of these emotional triggers were positive. So actually only 1.14 per cent of the patients in the study had a positive emotional trigger. I think moments of happiness are still quite safe.
Research score: 2/5