Severe emotional stress can prompt a sudden heart condition that poses the same sort of long-term damage as a heart attack, new research has found.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy – or "broken heart syndrome" - affects at least 3,000 people in the UK and is typically triggered by traumatic life events such as bereavement.
During an attack, the heart muscle weakens to the point where it can no longer function as effectively.
While previous research had suggested that the damage caused was temporary, scientists at the University of Aberdeen have now found that the effects can be permanent, like a heart attack.
In the study, which was funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the team of doctors examined 37 Takostubo patients for an average period of two years using ultrasound and MRI scans.
They presented their findings at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, California and revealed that participants had untreatable damage to the heart's muscle tissue which had reduced elasticity that prevented full contractions with every heartbeat.
According to another study conducted by Harvard Medical School, more than 90 per cent of reported cases of Takostubo are women between the ages of 58 and 75.
"Takotsubo is a devastating disease that can suddenly strike down otherwise healthy people," explained Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at BHF.
"We once thought the effects of this life-threatening disease were temporary, but now we can see they can continue to affect people for the rest of their lives."
Pearson added that there is currently no long-term treatment in place for patients because medics had previously thought all sufferers would make a full recovery.