Can a Broken Heart Kill You?

The holiday season is over, many of us may still be paying off bills, we are in the dead of winter and, love it or hate it, we are in the build-up to Valentine’s Day –  complete with an abundance of pink hearts and frilly chocolate boxes. It is either the best or the worst of days depending on your point of view.

For those who are not fans of this Hallmark holiday, Valentine’s Day can be a time to feel a little bit blue and/or fed up with all the fuss. But for others it can be a major source of stress. It can add to the heartache of a broken relationship, or bring on a new wave of grief and loss. It can be lonely and stressful and even make you feel that you need to stay on the sidelines of life because you don’t have anyone ‘special’ by your side.

My question is: has anyone died from a broken heart?

We decided to investigate whether being ‘broken or lonely hearted’ could really lead to physical risk. We were shocked by what we discovered…

‘Takotsubo Syndrome’ was only first identified in Japan in 1991 and has since been commonly renamed in the western culture as “stress cardiomyopathy” or “Broken Heart Syndrome”

Broken Heart Syndrome, it turns out, is real, it’s rough, and it can be dangerous –  and it seems to hit women more often than men (90% of diagnosed cases*). Even worse,  when women complain of their ‘broken’ heart they are often ignored! Another ailment that is “all in our head”?

Here’s some facts: in layman’s terms, Broken Heart Syndrome (BHS) is a cardiac incident brought about by the body releasing a sudden surge of chemicals, including adrenaline, which can shock the heart muscles and cause them to stop working properly. Specifically it is the spasming of the left ventricle of the heart, causing loss of blood flow – just like a heart attack. It even presents with the same symptoms as a heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, arm pain, nausea, and sweating. But instead of an arterial blockage (as in a heart attack), when doctors test, they find the left ventricle misshapen to the point where it is constricting blood flow.

What can cause Broken Heart Syndrome?

  • Extremely stressful incidents like the loss of a loved one, or a pet; sudden bad news; heated arguments with family; relationship breakups, divorce, or an accumulation of stresses leading to a final, triggering event.
  • Physical stress such as an asthma attack or even low blood sugar.
Who is most at risk?
Although anybody can experience Broken Heart Syndrome, because it is largely stress-related, the majority of sufferers (approximately 90%) are women of menopausal age! Researchers have concluded this may be because the level of oestrogen (which helps women cope with huge stresses), is significantly lowered in menopause. A lessened ability to cope with stress plus the inevitable stresses of mid-life (divorce, parental death, etc) create the perfect circumstances for Broken Heart Syndrome.

Can it be fatal?
Yes – actually it can be. While some patients can be absolutely fine within days of an incident, there is a possibility that the heart muscle can be so constricted that it can no longer pump blood to the body fast enough, causing heart failure. So theoretically and physiologically, yes, we can die of a broken heart. However, most people do survive broken heart syndrome, just like they survive a broken heart.

What can you do to avoid BHS**?

  • Talk to your doctor if you have been undergoing emotional stress, trauma, or grief – in fact, talk to anyone!
  • Express your emotions. Don’t hold it all in. This allows your body to respond better to stress.
  • Only you can set the time limit on your grief: whether it’s for the death of a loved one, or the death of a relationship, do not let others set the agenda or timeframe for your grieving. Be proactive to figure out ways or mechanisms to alleviate your pain or grief.
  • See your doctor regularly and make sure you report any new aches and pains so they are up-to-date on your medical history.
  • Keep yourself fit, eat well, and get into a regular routine of sleep.
  • If you do not feel up for it, then limit your exposure to the holidays and social gatherings that upset you. Be true to yourself and what you feel you can handle.
  • Make sure you do something that is good for your body and soul – go for walks, take  bubble baths, listen to music. Participating in something enjoyable will lessen the stress on your body. As you feel broken hearted, remind yourself of what you are grateful for.
  • if you feel broken hearted, still try to hang out with friends that empathize with what you are going through and who gently encourage you to live life to your fullest definition. The cliche is true that in many cases “time heals” a broken heart.
Although Broken Heart Syndrome is a very real medical condition, in many ways our ability to avoid it is up to us. Large-scale stress happens in life. As we age, we realize that it is unavoidable. In the end, our ability to cope with it and not have it trigger or contribute to major health problems, relies on our ability to handle the smaller daily stresses that we encounter all the time. In essence, the more time we spend loving in our daily lives, the less chance we will ever die of a broken heart!


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Fiona Fine

Fiona Fine is an Author, Speaker and the Editor-In-Chief of “Women Who Run It: Your Life – Your Love – Your Terms”, an in-box magazine that advocates for and empowers strong successful women around the world; women who are used to running the show at a high level and know how tough and often isolated it can be as a top professional juggling career, relationships, family, health & fitness, and community, while still finding personal time. After a long, unfulfilling and unsatisfying relationship and years in the traditional male world of engineering, IT and corporate recruiting, she decided to put the pleasure back into her existence and to start living life more on her own terms. Now she advocates for women (like her) who wonder how to keep it all from unravelling but still have a harmonized life of love, work, passion and …fun! She is the founder of Goddess Connections (Where Women Create Their Footprint in the World). She is also growing a movement: “How To Put The Fun Back Into Dating” to help women who are at the end of their dating rope to reignite the excitement and fun and create amazing love lives. You can find her at www.goddessconnections.com, www.fionafine. com or on www.facebook.com/fionafine