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I will wear my heart upon my sleeve: The mind–body connection in broken heart syndrome

A 2018/2019 Summer Studentship research project

Stress cardiomyopathy is the most pure example of a psychological factor causing a potentially rapidly fatal physical illness. This research directly looks at the mind–body connection, by exploring the link between emotional state and electrical aspects of the heart.

Student: George Watson
Supervisor: Dr Paul Bridgman, Dr Cameron Lacey
Sponsor: TBC

Project brief

“I will wear my heart upon my sleeve…” Iago
From the play Othello, William Shakespeare, 1604.


Since the Canterbury earthquakes our group has been active in stress cardiomyopathy (broken heart) research. Numerous publications and presentations have resulted. Last year our summer student studied the electrical abnormalities of the syndrome and from over fifty presentations was the winner of the overall studentship prize.

In stress cardiomyopathy the most important of the electrical changes is QT prolongation. This is a marker for ventricular arrhythmias that may be fatal. The next step in our clinical research program is to explore the mind–body connection and look at the impact of emotional state on QT interval in patients who have suffered from broken heart syndrome.


The student will explore correlations between emotional state and QT interval. Secondary endpoints will be heart rate variability measures that index autonomic nervous system activity.


Twenty four subjects will be recruited, split between control patients that have previously had an acute coronary syndrome and those who have had a stress cardiomyopathy. Holter 24 hour ECG monitoring will provide measurements of QT interval and heart rate variability. Monitoring will be performed on two days at least one week apart. On one day the patient will perform a 3 minute hyperventilation exercise and on the other a controlled breathing exercise.

Student research component of the study

The student will be responsible for identifying patients and managing and analysing the ECG testing. They will liaise with the specialist statistician for statistical analysis and produce the first draft of the manuscript for publication. As previously, preparation of an abstract and giving a presentation at a cardiology conference is required and media liaison may also be a part of the studentship.