New drug can be used to treat, reverse Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or 'broken heart syndrome'

sad woman lying on couch
It turns out you can literally die from a broken heart. Photo credit: Getty.

If you've ever been savagely dumped or suffered the loss of a loved one, you'll know one of the only ways to heal a metaphorical 'broken heart' is time. 

But what about when that broken heart has real, physical effects?

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, otherwise known as 'broken heart syndrome', was first discovered in the 1990s. It's characterised by the heart's left ventricle losing function and is typically caused by emotional or physical stress.

The condition mimics a heart attack with chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat. It also almost exclusively affects women, especially after menopause, with new research suggesting that up to eight percent of women suspected of having a heart attack may have this disorder.

In 2017 a Texas woman suffered Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or broken heart syndrome after the death of her dog. In 2019, a UK grandmother died from the same condition after a "callous" break-in by burglars. 

Now, using mice, researchers leading a pre-clinical study published in journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy have found the condition can be dramatically improved and even reversed using drug Suberanilohydroxamic acid, or SAHA. 

SAHA is currently used for cancer treatment, according to a release from researchers, and works by providing a protective benefit to genes. 

"We show for the first time a drug that shows preventative and therapeutic benefit is important to a healthy heart. The drug not only slows cardiac injury but also reverses the damage caused to the stressed heart," says Professor Sam El-Osta, from Monash Central Clinical School. 

He says the drug can now be used as a first step towards improved treatment plans.