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Study Shows Happiness Can Trigger 'Broken Heart Syndrome'

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Cardiologists believe they’ve found a surprising new trigger for the condition commonly known as “broken heart syndrome”: joy. The doctors have just published their findings in the European Heart Journal

The technical term is takotsubo syndrome (TTS) or takotsubo myopathy. Sudden weakening of heart muscles can distort the heart’s left ventricle, forcing it to expand at the bottom and resulting in a shape similar to a takotsubo, or Japanese octopus trap. Because TTS is frequently triggered by intense emotions like anger, fear, and grief, it’s also known as “broken heart syndrome.” The condition most frequently affects older women, but has been known to affect a wide range of adults.

But the authors of the new paper weren’t so sure “broken heart” was the right term. They wondered if happy events could trigger TTS, too. 

To find out, they tapped into the International Takotsubo Registry, which yielded case reports on 1750 patients from nine different countries. Of those 1750 cases, 485 had clear emotional triggers. Most of these were clearly negative: 30 patients were diagnosed after the death of a spouse, and 16 after attending funerals. Car accidents triggered TTS in 11 patients, while family arguments accounted for another 17 diagnoses. One person developed TTS after a nightmare, while another came down with the condition after losing her purse. The extent of the emotional trauma varied, but the majority fit the “broken heart” stereotype.

But there were a few patients whose TTS arose after happy or exciting events. The doctors classified 20 people, or 4 percent of the emotional-onset TTS cases, as experiencing what they termed “happy heart syndrome.” Triggers included the birth of great-grandchildren, winning at the casino, attending a wedding, and getting good news from a doctor. Three of the 20 cases were related to birthday parties. The authors found this especially interesting, because, as they noted, previous studies have shown that people predisposed to heart problems are 27 percent more likely to have a cardiac event on their birthdays. 

The “happy heart syndrome” patients were very similar to those in the “broken heart” category, with one exception: Their hearts were more likely to have ballooned up mid-ventricle (as opposed to near the bottom). 

A 4 percent prevalence is pretty small, but the researchers say it’s worth further study. "We have shown that the triggers for TTS can be more varied than previously thought,” co-author Jelena Ghadri said in a press release. “A TTS patient is no longer the classic ‘broken hearted’ patient, and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions too. Clinicians should be aware of this and also consider that patients who arrive in the emergency department with signs of heart attacks, such as chest pain and breathlessness, but after a happy event or emotion, could be suffering from TTS just as much as a similar patient presenting after a negative emotional event."

While it's a recent discovery, the concept isn't new. "We believe that TTS is a classic example of an intertwined feedback mechanism involving the psychological and/or physical stimuli, the brain and the cardiovascular system,” Ghadri’s co-author Christian Templin continued in the press release. “Perhaps both happy and sad life events, while inherently distinct, share final common pathways in the central nervous system output, which ultimately lead to [this condition]."

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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