Broken Heart Syndrome: How Heartbreak Can Literally Kill You

An article published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association says that heart attack risk is a jaw-dropping 21 times higher when one’s heart is broken.

Now “broken heart syndrome” (as it was creatively named) is nothing new. It’s not really thought to produce any real long-lasting health complications, it’s just a scientific name for something we all experience at one point or another, right? Maybe, maybe not. While most people do find the strength to move on, it seems that others strangely leap from broken heart syndrome into full-on physical heart issues.

Researchers say that 1 in 320 people who are at high risk for heart failure and 1 in 1,400 people who are at low risk will experience increased heart problems due to some kind of heartbreak. Specifically, grieving spouses are more likely to die of a heart attack or a stroke, which accounts for 53% of their deaths.

How does it work? First off, a person who is grieving an intense emotional loss, be it death, severe depression, or just your run-of-the-mill bad breakup, is likely to not take very good care of themselves. They’ll get less sleep. They’ll neglect medication. They’ll neglect to eat, or they just won’t eat with any regard to health (read: copious amounts of ice cream). Potentially, they’ll drink and smoke more. You see, the grieving process increases cortisol levels in the blood. Intense grief brings on psychological stress, increased heart rate, blood pressure, and clotting, and there you have a perfect recipe for a heart attack.

So what do we do? Here’s some crack advice from the folks who would know best. Elizabeth Mostofsky, lead author of the research said:

“Friends and family of bereaved people should provide close support to help prevent such incidents, especially near the beginning of the grieving process.”

Her colleague Dr. Mittleman said:

“During situations of extreme grief and psychological distress, you still need to take care of yourself and seek medical attention for symptoms associated with a heart attack.”

There you have it. When your teenager gets his/her heart broken and they swear that it’s killing them, there might be some truth to it after all.

Do you think there’s anything to broken heart syndrome or is it too pseudo-scientific for you to buy it?