Is takotsubo cardiomyopathy caused by problems with nervous system?

11th January 2016

Women who develop takotsubo cardiomyopathy may have problems with the part of their nervous system responsible for helping the body to calm down.

That is the new hypothesis of researchers who have been studying women with the condition, also known as broken heart syndrome.

This type of cardiomyopathy, more common in women than men, appears to be brought on by mental and physical stress.  The heart develops an abnormal shape (pictured above right) like a Japanese octopus pot from which the disease gets its name.

Its appearance can mimic a heart attack, but it does not appear to be caused by coronary artery disease.

Cardiologist Dr Harmony Reynolds from the NYU Langone Medical Centre in America, led a study that gave 20 women a host of tests designed to bring on physical and mental stress.

Ten of the women had recently experienced an episode of takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The team came to suspect they each suffered from an impaired parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system responsible for helping the body calm down.

Dr Reynolds now believes that breathing and other relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation should be tested for preventing the disease.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, which most often affects women in their 60s or older, can be brought on by grief, anger and anxiety, or by physical stress. A common trigger is a loved one’s illness or death, while for some there is no clear-cut cause.

“It is a romantic notion, but you really can get this from heartache,” says Dr Reynolds, whose study was published online in November in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Many people can make a full recovery from the condition.