Is it possible to die from a broken heart?
Recent celebrity deaths seem to have raised interest and concern over the concept, causing many people to question whether or not the loss of a loved one can actually break your heart literally and figuratively.
For instance, the stroke and tragic death of actress Debbie Reynolds nearly one day after the passing of her daughter and fellow actress Carrie Fisher seemed to prove there must be some sort of connection. There have been numerous news stories and reported real-life experiences of elderly widows and widowers that passed away shortly after their spouses.
— Winner Citizen (@winnercitizenus) December 29, 2016
Did these people die from broken hearts? Or, on the other hand, was the timing of their deaths just unfortunate coincidences?
“BROKEN HEART SYNDROME” IS REAL
According to the American Heart Association, broken heart syndrome is a real condition. The technical name of the condition is stress-induced or takotsubo cardiomyopathy. What causes the broken heart syndrome to strike? The report states that it is typically caused by an intense surge of stress hormones which leads to a person suffering intense and sudden chest pains. This type of hormonal release can occur as your body responds to an emotionally stressful event – such as the tragic death of a loved one. However, studies have shown that bereavement is not the only scenario in which a person can suffer from broken heart syndrome.
“It could be the death of a loved one or even a divorce, breakup or physical separation, betrayal or romantic rejection.”
The report further states that the shock does not have to come from a tragic event either. A person can suffer the same reaction from a good surprise, such as unexpectedly winning a large cash prize.
Aside from the symptoms of intense chest pains, what else is happening inside of a body affected by broken heart syndrome?
— Michele Kalt MD FACC (@Doctormishs) December 29, 2016
A part of a person’s heart enlarges and is no longer able to pump very well. During this time, it is “business as usual” for the remaining sections of the heart. In some cases, the heart may experience forceful contractions as it tries to make up for the affected section’s impaired performance.
BROKEN HEART SYNDROME VS HEART ATTACK
Unfortunately, broken heart syndrome can easily be misdiagnosed as a heart attack since the average test results and symptoms are so similar in both cases.
For instance, a person suffering from broken heart syndrome may experience shortness of breath and irregular heartbeats along with the sudden chest pains mentioned above. In addition, he or she may also suffer from cardiogenic shock – the inability for a weakened heart to pump a sufficient amount of blood to care for the body’s needs. Cardiogenic shock is the primary cause of death in people that suffer and pass away from heart attacks, which is why it is vital for this type of condition to be treated right away.
However, there are several key differences that can help distinguish broken heart syndrome from an actual heart attack. As already mentioned, unlike with heart attacks, broken heart syndrome is triggered by extreme emotional or physical stress. Blood tests will not show any sign of heart damage. Doctors will not see any signs of arterial blockage in the test results either. A major telltale sign of broken heart syndrome that does appear in test results is the odd movement of the heart’s left ventricle – a person’s lower left heart chamber.
— BBC (@BBC) October 11, 2016
According to Harvard Medical School, the ballooning of the left ventricle resembles the shape and structure of a tako-tsubo – a narrow-necked vessel with a round bottom that is used to catch octopuses. That is why broken heart syndrome is often referred to as takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The same report further states that broken heart syndrome “occurs almost exclusively in women.”
Can someone die from broken heart syndrome? Even though it is possible to die from this condition, Harvard Medical School reports that it is not as common as you might think.
“Most of the abnormalities in systolic function and ventricle wall movement clear up in 1-4 weeks… Most patients recover fully within 2 months. Death is rare, but heart failure occurs in about 20 percent of patients. It’s treated with diuretics, agents that improve heart muscle contraction and other therapies.”
The fact that broken heart syndrome can be treated presents somewhat of a romantic and poetic side to the situation – showing that broken hearts can heal. However, since the line separating broken heart syndrome from heart attacks is relatively thin, it is still imperative to trust in the guidance and expertise of a licensed medical professional whenever these types of symptoms are experienced.
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