Dr Nelson Chong talks romance and broken hearts at a Nerd Nite charity event

9 March 2018

Dr Nelson Chong, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology and expert on circadian and cardiac biology, explained the science behind a ‘broken heart’ at the Love Hurts edition of the Nerd Nite London monthly event.

In his talk Dr Nelson Chong provided evidence, proving that a broken heart is not just hyperbole excessively used in love songs. Explaining that a breakup, or other traumatic emotional stress, can be a trigger causing physical damage to the heart, a syndrome known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (or stress-induced cardiomyopathy), which can be fatal.

The condition was given the nickname ‘broken heart syndrome’ when researchers began to notice that the symptoms were often preceded by an emotional or mental stressor, such as loss of a loved one or a divorce.

Dr Chong said: "Broken heart syndrome can be fatal but in most cases it improves over time. Although it can develop at any age, it seems to mainly affect women over the age of 50. Broken heart syndrome is usually caused by a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, that can be initiated by an emotionally stressful event like the death of a loved one or a divorce, break up or separation."

He also spoke about the interaction between the brain and the heart, which seems to play an essential part in the broken heart syndrome. A large body of evidence demonstrated that being in love, especially over a long period of time, activates certain regions in the brain (cortex, amygdala) that are associated with motivation, emotions and drug addiction.

Dr Chong presented results from two recent studies which have shown that as much as 67 per cent of people suffering the broken heart syndrome (in a cohort of 1750 patients, 90 per cent of whom were female) had a neurological disorder such as mood or anxiety disorder, which may place them in a group of people who are more predisposed to broken heart syndrome.

"In broken heart syndrome, the left ventricle of the heart temporarily enlarges and doesn't pump as well, while the rest of the heart functions normally. The most common symptoms are chest pains and shortness of breath. You may also experience irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmias). You can have these symptoms even if you don't have a history of heart disease."

Proceeds from the sold-out event went to education charity SHINE which gives children the opportunity to acquire the skills and confidence they need to turn their potential into success at school and beyond.

Read Dr Nelson Chong’s article on the science behind a broken heart on The Conversation website.

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