Even Brief Moments of Happiness Can Make Death Feel Imminent

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Photo: Tom Merton/Getty Images

Today in man, can we get a break: Being happy can make you feel like you’re dying. A study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that about one in 20 cases of heart-attack-like takotsubo cardiomyopathy (a.k.a. broken heart syndrome) could be caused by joy.

The understanding thus far has been that the chest pain and breathlessness of takotsubo cardiomyopathy follow a traumatic event, like the death of a spouse or a serious car accident. Experts believe that surging post-trauma hormones stun the heart, weakening the left ventricle, and though most people get better in about a month, the heart can stop suddenly. Doctors do imaging tests to look for blockages in the coronary arteries, which would happen in the case of an actual heart attack. 

The condition primarily affects women, and the majority of the cases in the new study were in post-menopausal women. Researchers found that about three-quarters of the 1,750 cases were related to stress, but they were surprised to see that some people’s heart problems were preceded by happy occasions.

For instance, the BBC reports that patients in the study suffered the condition after events that included:

• a birthday party
• a son’s wedding
• meeting a friend after 50 years
• becoming a grandmother
• a favourite rugby team winning a game
• winning a casino jackpot
• a computerised tomography (CT) scan giving the all-clear from another condition

As one of the authors told the BBC, “A takotsubo syndrome patient is no longer the classic ‘broken-hearted’ patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too.” The most logical course of action is to never feel emotions again.