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Heartbreaks can be emotionally draining, but do you know that they can be physically damaging too? British researchers claim that severe emotional stress can cause permanent damage to the heart — damage that is similar in nature to that caused by a heart attack.

In the UK, at least 3,000 adults every year suffer from the "broken heart syndrome" – or takotsubo – but the actual numbers may be even higher, Daily Mail reported.

This is commonly triggered by bereavement and mainly occurs when severe stress causes the heart muscle to become "stunned and weakened."

Until now, doctors believed that the damage was temporary and would eventually heal. But recently researchers at the University of Aberdeen have discovered that the condition weakens the heart permanently, much like a heart attack.

Dr Dana Dawson, the lead researcher at the University of Aberdeen, told Daily Mail: "It is becoming increasingly recognised that takotsubo is more common than we originally thought."

The researchers studied 37 patients with takotsubo for an average of two years and carried out regular ultrasound and MRI scans of their heart. It was found that the damage was present long after the event which triggered the condition in the first place.

Researchers also said the patients should be offered the same drugs as those who have suffered a heart attack.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, California.

Dr Dana Dawson said: "This is the longest follow-up study looking at the long-term effects of takotsubo, and it clearly shows permanent ill-effects on the hearts of those who suffer from it. These patients are unable to perform the physical exercise as well and fatigue more easily."

It was noted that women are more affected by the condition than men.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Takotsubo is a devastating disease that can suddenly strike down otherwise healthy people."

There is no long-term treatment for patients suffering from takotsubo.

"Our research shows that takotsubo needs to be treated with the same urgency as any other heart problem and that patients may need on-going treatment for these long-term effects," Dawson said.

The condition was first identified in Japan the 1990s. The term "takotsubo" means octopus pot — describing the deformed shape of the heart.

A major project by Swiss researchers found out that the condition was commonly triggered by happy events as well as sorrow.

Scientists are still trying to understand the condition in more detail — exactly how it occurs and why some are affected while others are not.