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Broken Heart Syndrome: How Heartbreak Can Literally Kill You

Heart shape in doctor's hands

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?

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11 Responses to “Broken Heart Syndrome: How Heartbreak Can Literally Kill You”

  1. Kim Linehan

    Actually none of those factors had any affect on my case of broken heart syndrome or also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy,.
    I was 30 years old when it happened and I had just had my daughter a week prior via a c-section. I had a normal pregnancy and was and still am healthy, not overweight and never have had high blood pressure. I do have a stressful life at times. At the time I had my 'heart attack' my c-section incision had come open and my doctor had told me that I would need to clean and pack it three times a day by myself. For some reason this pushed me over the edge. I instantly felt extremely overwhelmed. I also had two other young children and one who has type 1 diabetes. We were also in the process of selling our house and preparing to move to a new city. All this stacked up and I woke up early one morning sweating heavily with massive chest and back pain. I was having labored breathing and pain in my jaw as well. It lasted for about 2 hours and then it went away and I jokingly told my husband that it couldn't have been a heart attack b/c I didn't have any pain in my arm. We took our daughter to her 1 week appt. and mentioned my chest pain to our doctor. Long story short I went through many tests, EKG, CAT Scan, and an ultrasound on my heart. My cardiologist told me he was pretty sure I had had what's often called broken heart syndrome and it is when too much adrenaline gets trapped in the left ventrical of the heart. I had to have a heart cath and then I stayed in the ICU for four days. I was unable to breast feed my newborn baby b/c of all the medicine I had to be on. I am still taking anti-anxiety medicine as well as a beta blocker that blocks adrenaline to my heart. Thankfully this type of cardio-myopathy heals itself in about two months for most people but I apparently have had some lingering affects. I guess some things aren't always attributed to the 'obvious'.

    sorry about the miss-spellings.

  2. Rochelle L Skinner

    I do believe dying from a broken heart happens, just because it is not instant most of the time, it does effect everyone in some way which compounds over time. When I go through the nursing home where my mom stays I see many old people that are out of thier minds, and I think back to my Dad and how he got worse mentally after his Mom died and many of his friends. All these people have slowly lost someone dear to them. People will eat more like depression which of course is a slow death leading to many health issues including heart problems. I look at myself and my collections of horse and cat figurines and realized I started the cat collection after my cat passed away. Even clutter is not good for you. I think a little something cracks in our heads when we lose someone. It adds to our personality and the way we act which in some cases can lead to unhealthy habbits.

  3. Michelle Ruth Mohammed

    When my husband passed away, it took three days before I realized I had not eaten anything in three days. A family member asked if I was eating and I looked back and realized I had not eaten anything since the day he passed. I did not notice. I was so wrapped up in other things at the time.

  4. Dawn Drouillard

    I beleive 100% that this is accurate. My dad would be still be here with our family today if not for us losing my brother tragically 12 yrs ago. It was something my dad could not get over (you never "get over" it) but u learn to go on and u learn to live with it and let the pain subside and live your life, but for my dad it literally crushed his will to go on….It crushed my whole family and I think I was in Shock and disbelielf myself for well over a year before I could work through my grief. My sister and my mother too…we all died inside from our loss. But my dad……his grief was different. Danny was his only son, his namesake, he was to carry on our family name. He was our Dannyboy. It's hard on everyone to lose a family member but for a father to lose his son…i know with my whole heart and soul, that is the reason my dad gave up taking care of himself. Now my sister and I have to go on everyday without our dad. This broken heart article told me only what I already knew…that it is indeed true.

  5. Chelsia Medina

    I'm still suffering "Broken heart syndrome" It's already been 3 months. All of this for one person… I really suck… The problem is, when I try to eat, I can't. One time I threw up trying to. I'm getting better, but I still can't eat. I can't move right from how weak I am and I try to sleep. 2-7 hours only.

  6. Penny J Ragan

    I feel I might die of broken heart syndrome I’m hoping I do, thus why I looked up this information. My Beloved Husband Tom died one month ago today. To be truthful I'm surprised I'm still around. My heart aces for him every day, It’s not getting any better.. Although I do no plan to take my own life I do pray for death every day. On top of it all his ss is our only source of income, If I don’t find an income soon I will lose this house that we just moved into 47 days before Tom died. We were so happy together. Life is sh**t without him.. He was and is my one true love. Now he’s gone. The void will never be filled. This is the worst pain I have ever felt I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

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