Why a shock can kill you (even good news): Release of adrenaline after sudden discovery can lead to heart problems
00:35 GMT, 16 October 2012
A shock can be fatal – and it makes
no difference whether it's the trauma of a loved one's death or the
excitement of a lottery win, experts claim.
Research suggests that a startling revelation can pose a danger to health whether the news is positive or negative.
And it seems women who have just been through the menopause are most at risk.
Researchers say they have identified how emotional trauma – from winning the lottery to losing a close relative – can trigger a potentially lethal catastrophe in the body they call the 'broken heart syndrome'.
German scientists say they have discovered exactly how a sudden discovery or traumatic experience can be fatal.
They say the news or event causes the
body to produce large amounts of stress hormones including adrenaline,
which narrows the main arteries which supply blood to the heart.
This paralyses the heart's main pumping chamber, causing a sudden change in rhythm similar to a heart attack.
The victim will suddenly find it very
difficult to breathe, have sharp pains in their chest and may feel very
weak. Some die, although many recover if given urgent medical
Scientists have been aware for some
time of 'broken heart syndrome', or patients who apparently die from
grief after losing a loved one, but they have not fully understood why
Professor Nienaber said broken heart syndrome mostly affects women who have gone through the menopause
Now, however, researchers from the
University Clinic of Rostock, in northern Germany, have come up with a
possible explanation based on studies of patients.
And they say the reaction isn't
necessarily triggered by a bereavement – it could also happen after
winning the lottery or even having an argument.
Dr Christoph Nienaber, director of
cardiology at the university, said: 'These patients suffer under a heavy
emotional load, either positive or negative. Their hearts literally
break. It usually happens within minutes to an hour of hearing the news.
'The typical scenario is bad news but there are reports of both and we don't know what causes it most.
'We are very far from a conclusion however, this is only speculative.'
He added: 'It mostly affects women who have undergone the menopause and are aged between 50 and 70 when they fall ill.
'We are still unsure why it seems to
affect this group the most.' One theory is that the female body reacts
especially strongly to stress hormones after menopause.
It is estimated that 2 per cent of
the 300,000 Britons recorded as having a heart attack every year have
suffered from broken heart syndrome – amounting to some 6,000 patients.
The exact figures are not known as many will simply be recorded as having had a heart attack.
Dr Nienaber said that most patients in these cases survive, provided they receive swift treatment.