Despite its cinematic-sounding name, “broken-heart syndrome” is in fact a real disease — and now researchers have found evidence that it’s connected to the second leading cause of death worldwide: cancer.
Takotsubo syndrome (TTS), as it’s officially known, was first recognized by scientists in Japan in 1990 and causes symptoms such as sudden chest pain, shortness of breath and low blood pressure. Harvard Medical School describes it as a sudden “weakening of the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber.”
The condition has long been connected to an emotionally traumatising event such as the death of a loved one (hence the name).
But in the new study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers suggest that mental suffering may not be the only trigger.
Of the 1,604 patients with TTS who were studied, one in six had cancer — and, perhaps relatedly, were far less likely to survive for five years after it occurred.
The most common cancer among participants —87 percent of whom were women — was breast, but included cancers affecting other parts of the body, such as the skin and gastrointestinal system.
The patients with cancer and TTS were “more likely to have experienced a physical trigger (such as a medical intervention or physical trauma) prior to the syndrome,” than TTS patients without cancer.
In a statement from the American Heart Association, lead author of the study Christian Templin, M.D., Ph.D., suggests that those who experience the symptoms of TTS — which can mimic a heart attack — be vigilant. “Patients with broken heart syndrome might benefit if screened for cancer to improve their overall survival,” said Templin, who is the director of Interventional Cardiology of the Andreas Grüntzig Heart Catheterization Laboratories at the University Heart Center Zurich at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland.
Aside from educating the general public about the connection, Templin suggests that the research is informative for doctors, as well.
“Our study also should raise awareness among oncologists and hematologists,” said Templin. “Broken heart syndrome should be considered in patients undergoing cancer diagnosis or treatment who experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or abnormalities on their electrocardiogram.”
It’s important to note that TTS, while sometimes life-threatening, is treatable — and often, symptoms may disappear on their own. For more information on causes and treatment, visit the British Heart Foundation website.