Credit: Wellcome Library, London Diagrams of the heart etc.

    Physical stress ‘more dangerous’ for the hearts of men

    21 June 2017

    Physical stress is more damaging to the heart than emotional stress, according to a new study by the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research.

    Takotsubo cardiomyopathy – also known as broken heart syndrome – can be triggered by both emotionally demanding events and acute physical stress. Patients with the condition can become breathless and experience chest pains. It can feel similar to a heart attack, although the coronary vessels do not close up.

    The researchers found that infections, accidents or any other cause of stress is more likely to trigger the condition in men. In women, it is more often emotional stress.

    The study also shows that when it is triggered by physical stress the prognosis considerably worsens.

    During the study, 84 patients who were diagnosed with the condition between 2003 and 2015 were examined. They were divided into two groups; those whose illness was triggered by emotional stress and those by physical stress.

    After a five year follow up period they found that rates of thromboembolic events and life-threatening arrhythmias were significantly lower in patients suffering from emotional stress compared to patients with physical stress.

    Dr. Ibrahim El-Battrawy, the study’s principle investigator, said: ‘For a long time, it was thought that the disease was harmless, since the heart function usually recovered again after three months at the latest.’

    ‘Yet serious secondary diseases can indeed still occur months later and up to four percent of patients even die following a Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.’

    Instant analysis

    Doctors have long been aware of anecdotal and observational findings that people can appear to fall ill – or even die – of a ‘broken heart’ following a tragic event, such as the loss of a loved one.

    This German study throws more light on this unusual phenomenon by showing that physical stress – such as trauma or infection – appears to be more likely to lead to the condition (in men) than emotional stress.

    Although small – only 84 patients were involved over a five year period – it found that it occurred more frequently if physical stress had been the trigger, and the affected group also had a higher risk of death than those under emotional stress.

    This study adds relatively little to the day to day business of common medical practice but does throw more light on this interesting and poorly understood phenomenon. People who fall ill with heart problems following significant physical stress should now be closely monitored to reduce the risk of heart disease progression, and treatment adjustments should be made if necessary.

    Research score: 3/5