Can being too happy kill you? Study says ‘happy trigger’ can lead to rare heart failure

While poets may speak eloquently of dying from a broken heart, scientists have offered solid proof that profound grief can lead to death.

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Now, they are warning that the same may happen if a person is too happy.

Broken heart syndrome,” or takotsubo syndrome, is a condition where sudden heart failure is believed to be triggered by the emotion of a tragic life event, such as the death of a loved one.

A new study appears to show that the same thing may happen when you have an especially happy life event, such as a wedding or the birth of a child.

The study followed a group of patients who had takotsubo syndrome seemingly triggered by both sad and happy life events, according to Dr. Thomas Stiermaier of the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Lübeck, Germany. While sad life events were seen more often as the likely cause of incidents of takotsubo syndrome, a number of those studied had experienced positive life events before heart failure.

The results were published online May 4 in JACC: Heart Failure.

The researchers stressed that incidents of takotsubo syndrome are rare.

According to Dr. Jason Rogers, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, most patients who experience sorrow or joy in their daily life will never develop the condition.

“One might advise patients to avoid extreme emotions, but having emotions is part of human nature and not something easily controllable,” he says. “We tell all patients the same thing: If you feel chest pain or pressure or feel that something is not right with your heart, do not delay in seeking medical attention.”

Symptoms of broken heart syndrome include chest pain and shortness of breath.

The study looked at 2,482 patients using the German-Italian-Spanish Takotsubo (GEIST) Registry. The registry compared triggers and outcomes of those with broken and happy heart syndrome.

Researchers said that 910 of the nearly 2,482 patients who had an emotional trigger prior to the heart failure, suffered a negative trigger. Thirty-seven patients had a positive trigger.

The average age was similar between the groups — about 70 years.

Patients who had a positive emotional trigger leading to heart failure more often had ballooning of the heart and were more often male (18.9% vs 5.0%), according to the study.