Songwriters, poets and novelists have longed mused over whether time truly heals everything.
Charles Dickens toyed over whether the bitter Miss Havisham would ever recover from being jilted at the altar, and for many historians, Queen Victoria's black dress came to symbolise her irreparable suffering over Prince Albert's death. But a new study has apparently put their agonising to bed and concluded that not even the clock can always mend a broken heart.
A team of medical researchers from the University of Aberdeen have said that so-called "broken heart syndrome" can leave physical scars that never disappear. Until now, it was thought the heart fully recovered from the syndrome, but new research suggests the muscle actually suffers long-term damage. This could explain why people with the syndrome tend to have the same life expectancy as those who suffer a heart attack.
The British Heart Foundation-funded study followed 52 patients, aged between 28 and 87, over four months, who suffered with what is officially known as takotsubo syndrome. The term was first coined in Japan in 1990 and named after the native word for an octopus pot, which has a unique shape that resembles a broken left ventricle. It is provoked when the heart muscle is suddenly "stunned", causing the left ventricle to change shape, and is typically prompted by "intense emotional or physical stress". It affects the heart's ability to pump blood and, according to the BHF, there remains no known medical cure.
About 3000 people a year in Britain suffer from the rare syndrome, which mostly affects women.
"This study has shown that in some patients who develop takotsubo syndrome, aspects of heart function remain abnormal for up to four months afterwards," said BHF associate medical director, Prof Metin Avkiran.
"Worryingly, these patients' hearts appear to show a form of scarring, indicating that full recovery may take much longer, or indeed may not occur, with current care."
Dr Dana Dawson, reader in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Aberdeen, who led the research, said: "We used to think that people who suffered from takotsubo cardiomyopathy would fully recover, without medical intervention. Here we've shown that this disease has much longer lasting damaging effects on the hearts of those who suffer from it."
The study is published in the Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography.