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Move over cholesterol. Study finds happiness can kill you too

Asad Ali | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:54 IST

If not from alcohol abuse and pangs of unrequited love, then Devdas might've suffered heartbreak for another unlikely reason: the happiness of a blissful life with Paro. Confused? Don't be. Turns out that too much happiness can also cause serious heartbreak. Or so says a new research report.

A team of Swiss research scientists have published their findings in the European Heart Journal, and claim that happy events can lead to 'takotsubo syndrome', more romantically labelled 'broken heart' syndrome (TTS).

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It's when the heart becomes weak and is usually a result of emotional distress of any kind - death of a parent or spouse or pets are prominent examples. There are very real risks associated with TTS including that of cardiac arrest. The condition is named after a Japanese octopus trap that is shaped like the left ventricle of a heart affected by TTS.

What makes the research unique is that they've established how TTS isn't necessarily a result of emotional distress - extreme happiness can trigger it as well.

The research team at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland assessed 1,750 registered TTS patients for the project. There were 485 cases where TTS was traced to some kind of emotional trigger and about 4% of those cases had triggers that were positive and not emotionally distressing at all. Some of those 'happy sentiment' triggers include birthday parties, weddings, celebrations, and even sports victories.

It was 2011 when lead researcher and consultant cardiologist Dr Christian Templin joined hands with Dr Jelena Ghadri, another cardiologist, and established the first International Takotsubo Registry at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland. The work spanned 25 collaborating centres in nine different countries.

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In an official release Dr Ghadri says, "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."

In fact, the research found that 'happy heart' patients were more in danger of having hearts that enlarged (like the Japanese Octopus trap, takotsubo) in the mid-ventricle than 'broken heart' patients - 35% v/s 16%.

If there's a potential problem with this finding, it's sample size - it's too small to zero in and find out exactly how TTS works and affects the heart muscles. But the team says that it's still an important indicator of serious cardiac conditions and can be included in the framework of actual medical consideration.

"Clinicians should be aware of this and also consider that patients who arrive in the emergency department with signs of heart attack, 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. Our findings broaden the clinical spectrum of TTS. They also suggest that happy and sad life events may share similar emotional pathways that can ultimately cause TTS," says Dr Ghadri.

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Why does that happen? "We believe that TTS is a classic example of an intertwined feedback mechanism, involving the psychological and/or physical stimuli, the brain and the cardiovascular system," explained Dr Templin in a release. "Perhaps both happy and sad life events, while inherently distinct, share final common pathways in the central nervous system output, which ultimately lead to TTS."

Does that mean we should all now guard against being too happy? Looking at the state of the world today, there seems no real fear of that!

Edited by Payal Puri

First published: 13 March 2016, 2:15 IST
Asad Ali @asadali1989

Asad Ali is another cattle class journalist trying to cover Current affairs and Culture when he isn't busy not saving the world.